Brain Pickings

Think, Or Don’t

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Finish genius, transcripts from your overbearing mother’s brain, more Finnish genius, how to deal with existential ponderings and hangover all at the same time, and what murals have to do with gangrene. Welcome to the Think, Or Don’t issue.

KILLER INNOVATION FROM THE OLD WORLD

Marko Ahtisaari. You may not be able to pronounce his name, but you’d better remember it. Because this fine Finn is revolutionizing the mobile industry. He’s a true visionary, if there ever was one.

Ahtisaari got an Ivy League start at Columbia, where he studied, then lectured on, philosophy, music and economics — quite the perfect ingredients for a cultural and technological revolution recipe. He lived for a while as a composer and a bassist, then started designing mobile applications long before the world had headsets glued to their ears. In 2002, he headed design strategy for Nokia.

So why do we care? Today? Because Marko Ahtisaari is also the founder of Blyk, a strikingly innovative mobile network that just launched in the UK. What’s so special about Blyk is that it’s only available to 16-to-24-year-olds (although you can stay on as you age once you join) and is funded entirely by advertising.

And not just any advertising — only stuff kids actually care about. When you register with Blyk, you build a profile of your interests — be they fashion or film or sports or music or gerbils. Then the only commercial messages you get (no more than 6 a day) are cutting-edge stuff and exclusive offers from relevant brands. So it seems like Blyk is trekking some Conversationality territory with its ad model: they use “dialogue ads,” in which a brand (say, L’Oreal) sends the user an interactive message (say, an image-based “Which celebrity are you most like?”quizlet), to which the user responds with a quick text (say, answer B for Heidi Klum), then the brand follows up with a final product recommendation message (say, “Then our Spiced Cranberry lipgloss is a great match for you.”)

On top of the clear brand benefits, dialogue ads also improve your user experience — the more Blyk learns about you as you interact with messaging, the better and more relevant it gets.

The exclusivity factor doesn’t hurt, either — Blyk has the early-day-Gmail invitation-only model, which automatically lends it the credibility of friend-to-friend recommendation and the desirability of something with a tease of a supply/demand ratio. And the no-contract thing seems perfect for the fickle demo — you can try it out and if (for some inconceivable reason) prefer a bill, you can switch to a different service. But even if you use up the 273 free texts and 43 free minutes, Blyk becomes a pay-as-you-go plan and is still the cheapest mobile operator in the UK.

Ahtisaari describes Blyk as having “the muscle and the bone of a mobile operator but the ethos and the soul of a media company.” And he nails it — Blyk delivers on the consumer end (how’s that free phone service?) and the advertiser end (how’s that direct access to willing members of the most elusive market?), concocting something that’s part new media, part behavioral targeting, part back-to-basics smart marketing.

SELF-HELP ON SELF-DAMAGE

Leave WebMD and self-help books to the hypochondriacs and the, um, victory- challenged. How about some morbid snark that, between the mocumentary exploration of a fantasy hypochondriac’s world and the encyclopedia of the world’s hardly-credible worst maladies, manages to sneak in some actually smart, functional health advice?

Then check out 192 pages of it in The Complete Manual of Things That Might Kill You. We dig their prescription — after all, the healthiest approach to health may just be not thinking about it too seriously. Do it any other way, and the worrying alone can kill you.

This jewel is part of California design company Knock Knock‘s Self-Hurt series, rubbing ailed shoulders with manuals on traumatizing your children, getting in debt, procrastinating, and driving like a maniac.

We swear we didn’t contribute to any of them.

GLOCAL CULTURE

kiosk |ˈkēˌäsk|: a small open-fronted hut or cubicle from which newspapers, refreshments, tickets, etc., are sold.

Kiosks are also one of the best parts about traveling abroad. Tucked in the street corners of Brazil, sprawled on the market walks of Turkey, lined up on the organized sidewalks of Sweden, kiosks are where you find all those material mementos, big or small, that bring the just-traveled cultured to your worldly home.

KIOSK is also the web incarnation of the eponymous SoHo brick-and-mortar store that sells unobjectionably cool objects from across the globe.

These cultured folks travel the world, then build globally-local collections of anonymous objects from different countries. Each country gets a 4-to-6-month run on the online store, where select products from that foreign land not otherwise sold in the US can be found. KIOSK aims to gather things “by not one personality but things that are the result of local aesthetics and needs.” But once something’s gone, it’s gone — so grab those Finnish gymnastics shoes before some other hobo-hipster does.

The current collection hails from Finland. (We swear, this week’s overdose of the world’s sixth happiest nation is a mere coincidence and not a reflection of some odd Finnish fetish.) You can also catch up with the ongoing collection of countries past. And check out their blog, where they reveal we have a shared love for GOOD Magazine.

And if you’re lacking, or slacking, on your thoughtful and creative holiday gift shopping, do turn to KIOSK’s 2007 gift sets. Or at least fire up those hint-dropping skills and tell the givers you’re expecting from that you’re eyeing the stuff.

FOOD FOR ABSOLUTELY NO THOUGHT

Whoever thought the ultimate unhappy ending could ever be amusing. Seems like the guys behind the Blue Ball Machine did. Nope, it’s not world’s most mischievous android tease. It’s something the purpose of which is not quite clear, but something indulgently vertigo-inducing without the aid of controlled substances — and that’s gotta count for something.

Watch the little balls waltz across their factory dancefloor to the sound of an electro-classical circus mind-driller.

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And oh how many ways there are to enjoy the Blue Ball Machine. You could somberly reflect on your own destiny as a tiny blue ball in the well-oiled machine that is society. You could ponder the existential purpose of the little spheres’ perpeto-mobilesque journey. Or you could stare blankly at the screen for 4 underslept, hung-over hours.

We don’t judge.

STREET PICKINGS

If you’ve been in Philly for longer than an hour, chances are you’ve noticed the numerous murals — old, new, mosaic, painted, pseudo-graffitied — glaring from the facades of the cityscape.

Intended to lift our communal spirits, inspire a sense of pride and glory, or do God (the mayor?) knows what, they’re often ironically lurking from the walls of the grimmest blocks like silk-woven bandages on a gangrened limb. We couldn’t help seeing the inspiration/desperation contrast between this particularly glorious mural from several decades ago and the homeless woman sleeping on the cold sidewalk beneath it one chilling winter morning.

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So if the mayor would spend less (time, funding, attention) on trying to make the already fortunate feel better and more on helping the less fortunate get better, then maybe one day we’ll have streets less artificially glorious and more comfortingly comfortable.

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…

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…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.

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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.

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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.png So 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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Didn’t See It Coming

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Antidextrous art, the perfect drink, flipping off physics, why you should always (ALWAYS!) listen to us, who (kinda) rocked out 2007, what new disaster you should be worrying about, all that manlove, and absolutely nothing to do with Thanksgiving, turkeys or the word “gobble.” Welcome to the Didn’t See It Coming issue.

POWER TO THE ANTIDEXTROUS

Okay, if you happen to be one of those ambidextrous wunderkinds, please place either of your freaky genius hands on the mouse and scroll down to the next section: you’re not welcome in this one. Because this section is all about the art of loving your awkward non-dominant hand.

At least that’s what Justin and Drew, the guys behind Left Handed Toons (by right-handed people), believe.

And we think it’s antidextrous genius. So far, they’ve got 124 delightfully awkward toons to show for it, new ones coming regularly, and a just-opened merch store. Which actually brings some unexpected freshness into the sea of seen-it-many-times, been-done-before graphic tee sameness.

Justin and Drew: you just got yourselves the Brain Pickings (left) thumb-up.

IN GOOD SPIRITS

‘Tis the season of indulgence and little do we like more than indulging our vices. Yep, people seem to invest extra effort and money in pampering their questionable inclinations, from the eco-geeks, to the booze snobs, to the kinky…okay, we don’t go there. And while there’s a whole multimillion-dollar industry addressing the “won’t go there” needs, there’s now something addressing the demands of the snobbiest, pickiest, most demanding liquor connoisseurs.

MONDOliquor is a new website that curates exotic, local, hard-to-find and specialty indie liquors and wines for those who expect nothing less of their booze.

So in the spirit of the season, what better way to wash down all that pumpkin pie than with a shot of Pumpkin Pie Vodka? Just keep the shots coming and you’ve washed away all the gorging guilt, too. Seems to us like a solid plan.

DOWN WITH GRAVITY

Never ones to believe in applied physics (ask Ms. Chakarova, our sternly-lipped high school physics teacher), we’ve had dreams of flying since before we could walk. Granted, gravity isn’t exactly cooperating. But that’s not stopping visionary photographer Jan von Holleben from making the camera an imaginative haven for those dreams.

His photoseries Dreams of Flying portrays the most precious part of childhood: the ability to make dreams come true through boundless imaginative freedom.

Shooting children (you know, with a camera) seems to come naturally to von Holleben, which may have something to do with his own parents: a cinematographer and a child therapist. Dreams of Flying, inspired by classic children’s books and contemporary superheroes, was shot over four years with children from von Holleben’s hometown neighborhood in Southwest Germany.

THE TOLDJA SO DANCE

You may recall from past Brain Pickings eras a certain service by the name of Jott that lets you send notes to yourself while on the go using your cell phone. Quick recap for our new readers: Jott lets you dictate all those note-to-self moments into a cell phone, then have it transcribed and delivered to you via email or text message. And it’s all completely free.

Well, proof that we spot big things early: this week, Jott signed a deal with Amazon under which Jott users can fill their Amazon wish lists or shopping carts just by speaking into their phones. So imagine you’re on the train, reading a magazine, and spot a pair of rainboots you love. Or at a fried’s barbecue ogling those awesome crisp-sound-blasting outdoor iPod speakers. If you’re a Jotter, here’s what you do:

You: dial 1-866-JOTT-123

Jott: “Who do you want to Jott?”

You: “Amazon.”

Jott: “Amazon, is that correct?”

You: “Yes.”

Jott: “Say the name of the item. Beep!”

You: “Bushnell Travel Tunes outdoor speakers for iPod.”

Jott will proceed to send you an email with the top 5 results for your from Amazon, plus pricing info and customer reviews. (PS. Sorry, Jott — you may get A+ for functionality, but we can’t give you more than a B for grammar.)

Not bad, not bad at all. Meanwhile, the marketing industry was freaking out on and off stage at the CTIA Conference this year because mobile ads are that kid whom everyone expected to be valedictorian, prom king, and class president, but who ended up flunking out. So here’s a thought: perhaps independent software developers like the folks at Jott will be the ones to really kick-start mobile marketing: as an organic extension of the service itself, one that reflects actual user needs rather than a force-feeding mechanism for privacy-invading sales pitches. Just sayin’.

WHO’S TO SAY

Seems a bit early, but this year’s best-of lists are already rolling out. Like this Hottest Products of 2007 show-down by AOL Money & Finance. We did, however, have to ask ourselves how come AOL, always the dinosaur struggling to shake off their own unhot image, should be the judge of current hotness. But, hey, to give them some credit: we discovered this one by doing something we’d never-ever-ever done before: clicking on an online banner. Granted, this one was nicely animated and had clever copy, but the act in and of itself made us feel like we’ve brought shame upon our family. Aw well. Onwards:aol.jpg

1. iPhone. This year’s most anticipated product launch kicked off a sales bonanza that left even Apple’s own projections in the dust.

2. Coke Zero. Despite the extravagant 2005 launch, Coke’s biggest one in two decades, sales proved the product to be “special” — not in the good way. This year, it got an image revamp and managed to jack up Coke’s to a seven-year high.

3. Nintendo Wii. Okay, so maybe this too didn’t exactly launch this year. But it was this year that it hit the stunning 13 million sales mark.

4. Slingbox. Straight from your home, compressed live TV, satellite, DVR and all, sent to a computer anywhere in the world. Not bad.

5. VitaminWater. Coca-Cola snagged it this year for $4.2 billion. And Fitty made $100 million from his stake in Glaceau. Phew.

6. Tesla Roadster. This fully electric beast goes 0-60 in under 4. Or at least the prototype does — the 2007 launch has been slacked off to 2008, but even so the Tesla is fully sold out.

7. Google Maps. Mainly, the much-buzzed-about Street View function introduced in may, which allows you to take virtual 360-degree tours of cities.

8. Halo 3. We think something that broke the record for highest-grossing opening day sales ($170 million) in entertainment history should rank higher than a drink. But whatever.

9. Hannah Montana. Um, like, duh. This Disney cash cow has been milked for TV shows, merch toys, a clothing line, sold-out concerts, and an upcoming movie.

10. Boeing 787 Dreamweaver. Up goes fuel efficiency, on come 210-330 passengers, and 750 of these babies have already been back-ordered.

Okay, we’re not transcribers here. We wasted enough time composing the lovely visual for you — just click the damn link for the rest. (Or don’t. We think, with the exception of 14, they kinda suck anyway. Just kidding. Sort of.)

UNTRIVIA

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Here’s the thing about the Internet: it’s a little bit like childbirth. We do know that it’s big and important and keeps the world running, but we’re afraid that finding out the back-end details would be so gut-wrenchingly devastating we’d wish we never had. And while we’re not in the business of illuminating the (gory, mucousy, flesh-ripping) miracle of childbirth for you here, we don’t at all mind giving you a gory Internet reality-check.

Turns out, what with all the consumer-generated content binge, the world has a new cyber-natural disaster pending. In expert circles, it goes by Exaflood: the massive flood of video and other broadband traffic pouring onto and from the web every day. The name comes from the the data quantifier exabyte (EB), humongous numbers of which the world has started consuming: 161 million so far this year alone.

Just one exabyte has so much data that, if converted to DVD’s, it would take over 50,000 years to watch. Which means watching Chocolate Rain and all the rest of this year’s content would take about 8.5 million years. And, at that pace, 20 US households in 2010 will use more Internet capacity than the whole world did in 1995, with up to 80% of it coming just from online video streaming.

Here’s a numbers-and-figures snapshot of just the kind of information flood we’re dealing with at exabyte level:

Quantities of bytes
SI prefixes (decimal) IEC prefixes (binary)
Legacy use (often with KB for kB)
Value Name Value Name
10001 = 103 kilobyte (kB) 10241 = 210 = 1.024·103 kibibyte (KiB)
10002 = 106 megabyte (MB) 10242 = 220 ≈ 1.049·106 mebibyte (MiB)
10003 = 109 gigabyte (GB) 10243 = 230 ≈ 1.074·109 gibibyte (GiB)
10004 = 1012 terabyte (TB) 10244 = 240 ≈ 1.100·1012 tebibyte (TiB)
10005 = 1015 petabyte (PB) 10245 = 250 ≈ 1.126·1015 pebibyte (PiB)
10006 = 1018 exabyte (EB) 10246 = 260 ≈ 1.153·1018 exbibyte (EiB)
10007 = 1021 zettabyte (ZB) 10247 = 270 ≈ 1.181·1021 zebibyte (ZiB)
10008 = 1024 yottabyte (YB) 10248 = 280 ≈ 1.209·1024 yobibyte (YiB)

No word on how much of that traffic comes from “adult” video. And, just like with childbirth, we think we’re better off.

MANLOVE INCUBATOR

incubator.pngFor the second consecutive year, mtvU (you know, the ugly bastard child in Viacom’s otherwise decent property line-up, spinning 24-hour college programming that hardly anyone watches) teamed up with Cisco Systems for the annual Digital Incubator competition: a search for the five most innovative online ventures by students. The award grants are up to $30,000 and this year there was an extra kicker: the five grand recipients got a chance to pitch a detailed business plan to MTV and Cisco executives for another grant of up to $100,000.

And one team actually won it: RapHappy, a freestyle battle site that lets anyone and everyone break it down. You’ll find anything from actual battles to R. Kelliesque (but much less creepy, we promise) epics. But dig it just because it’s so damn tongue-in-cheek you can’t help ROLF-ing over some of those jewels.

raphappy2.pngLike our favorite: this rappy ode to manlove boldly broadcasting rapper Gnomebody’s tender manly feelings for his BFF Zach (a.k.a. Zakku). And if there wasn’t a picture, we could’ve sworn it was auteured by a certain manly love duo we know who shall remain nameless. (We’re talking to you, “Rob” and “Gari”.)

All Kinds of Shakers

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Brainy like a pro, Someguy, down with Pac-Man, brass balls, staying on top of the world, Web World War I, what Frida Kahlo and Popeye have in common, and why ugly old warehouses belong at the heart of every city. Welcome to the All Kinds of Shakers issue.

BEGGARS CAN BE CHOOSERS

As the recent proud purchasers of a Canon PowerShot Pro S3 IS, we’re quite aware of the onerous endeavor that is researching stuff online, and the crucial role product reviews play. Which is why we dig SmartRatings, a new service that aggregates expert reviews on gadgets from across the web and serves them up to you in a nifty, easily digestible format.

You get an overall product score based on the scaled and averaged ratings different experts gave it so you can base your decision on a total score in a unified 1-100 scale. The computer, electronics and camera reviews come from all across the range, from gadget-god-truth-bestowing CNET to casual-opining Stuff. And while they don’t weigh experts differently based on their perceived reputability, they do curate sources to only include solid, legit experts.

Once you’re ready to commit, SmartRatings uses PriceGrabber software to show you where you can snag the thing at the best deal. And if you need more than just gadgets, the Price Finder tool (also based on PriceGrabber) lets you browse any category you fancy, from baby stuff to outdoor gear.

Apparently, you can save a buck on Boy Butter if you get it at drugstore.com over other retailers.

MASHIEST MASH-UP

Here’s a thought: using the capacity of the digital age to spark real creative collaboration. And we’re not talking about video mash-ups and other ephemeral CGC stints. We’re talking about 1000 Journals, an incredibly smart project that meshes the traditional, pen-scissors-and- paper art of journaling with the concept of digital distribution and collaboration, building a tightly knit community around it all.

The way it works is simpler than it sounds: you either start a real paper-based journal, scan it in and upload it, or you join other people’s already uploaded journals and contribute creatively. You control the level of others’ involvement in your own journal — you can make it fully public so anyone can chip in creative content, or you can make it personal and just share with others to look at.

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If you choose to share your journal, it can be either a travelling one (mailed to people who sign up to contribute) or a location one (staying at one public location, such as a cafe, shop, or bookstore). The travelling kind can have a theme if you so with and can be by invitation only or open to everyone who signs up. And the location one is always open to all contributors, but they have to make a trip to the location. You can download instruction bookplates to glue to the inside covers of your creation so people would know what the hell just hit them.

So far, 1000 Journals is sporting close to 3,500 members, more than 600 personal journals, 54 location ones, and over 1,000 travelling. And they’ve already published a best-of book cleverly listed as authored by Someguy.

We must say, the work is sometimes weird, sometimes absolutely brilliant, often dark, but always strikingly honest. Take a look.

PAC-MAN’S NIGHTMARE

Got pixelation nightmares but don’t wanna shell out a grand on Adobe Cs3? The good folks at Stanford are there for you with a free web-based service that lets you turn raster pixelation debacles into great-at-any-size vector images. (For those getting the Huh’s right about now, raster images are pixel-based and get worse as you enlarge them, but vector drawings are made up of geometric shapes that you can resize all you want with zero fuzziness.)

VectorMagic, unlike other similar apps, is seamlessly optimized for any operating system. And, unlike the Adobe stuff, it takes zilch out of your pocket. Plus, completely web-based, so your broadband takes all the slow-down weight from your hard drive. No more Illustrator-crashing-Photoshop-crashing-everything lovelies.

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For your Luddite benefit, these nice folks have an instructional video showing you exactly how to make your vectorization dreams come true. It’s simple, really: you upload a JPG, PNG, GIF, BMP or TIFF, configure what file format you want back (EPS, SVG or PNG), let the vector magic happen, then just review and download your effortless payoff.

Great on everything from pencil-on-paper hand sketches to fuzzy vacation photos, VectorMagic actually outperforms Corel and matches Adobe in a side-by-side comparison of results. And, speaking of results, how about these bad boys?

BALLS FOR RIGHTEOUS BRAWLS

If you’ve touched any piece of media lately, you’ve heard of the WGA strike, writers’ first stance against studio monopoly since 1988. You may have even heard that Steve Carell, in a heroic we’re-all-in-this-together act of support, called NBC and refused to report to work due to not just merely “enlarged balls” but “brass balls.” Whatever their size, he clearly has them to stand up to the giants.

But level of informity aside, if you’re like us, you still need some clarifying nudging to really get what the whole shebang is about. So here’s a neat and pretty compelling clarifier straight from the source:

Pity that audiences, the currency of network ad sales, won’t feel the impact until months later (because season shows are written several episodes ahead), which means networks will sit and wait, hoping writers starve to death, before they do anything proactive. And, for what it’s worth, we’re calling to cancel our Comcast today. How’s that for a 0.00000001% chip at your currency pie, network meanies? We may even mention something about brass balls to the cusomter service rep.

DIGITAL GRAPEVINE

Care to know what’s on the minds, lips and eyes of the world? You could spend half your day sifting through Digg, del.icio.us, YouTube, Fark, Reddit, and all their other web-mates. Or, you could just go to the super-nifty PopUrls, which aggregates, well, popular url’s from every possible buzz source: the video giants (YouTube, Metacafe, iFilm, AOL video and more), the photo hubs (think Flikr and friends), the social bookmarking beasts (your Digg, Fark, del.icio.us and on and on), the news leaders (Yahoo and Google News, among others), and the weird new media hybrids (you know, Twitter, Mahalo and what not).

popurls.pngThis bad-ass lets you customize your view and presentation, from actual content displayed to layout, page background, and font size. It also has a nifty Scrapbook feature that lets you store URL’s on a sticky-note-looking thingie so you wouldn’t have to clutter your bookmarks or open Stickies (if you’re not PC Guy and actually have them).

PopUrls is the rather ingenious brainchild of self-proclaimed “web communications maverick” Thomas Marban, an entrepreneurial Aussie who back in the day co-founded werk3, one of Australia’s first web agencies. This latest project is easily the best execution we’ve seen of the so-called Single Page Aggregators concept.

Just one thing on our wish list for the cool app: tagging content from all the different buzz sources so we can see broader themes and subjects that emerge across the web in real time.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifIn case you’re not following the social networking tumults of the past two weeks, here’s a quick recap: Facebook announced their new “business solutions” platform of hyper-targeted advertising (SocialAds), friend-linked e-commerce recommendations (Beacon), and deep behavioral tracking (Insights), on top of a Microsoft deal. Google, still the laggard in the SN game, responded with a groundbreaking OpenSocial platform, an ad-serving alliance with various high-traffic SN sites.

To give you an idea of the extent of this Google/Facebook face-off, here’s a list of who the OpenSocial allies are and how they fare traffic-wise.

Pretty impressive, given Facebook’s 65 million. But, of course, results will depend entirely on the actual competing platforms and how each handles content. Because, in the end, it always comes down to relevance and engagement, not total eyeball numbers.

Meanwhile, the talk of the town has it that all the Google-Goliath pressure may force Facebook to dump their own recently released proprietary advertising platform and become another sheep in the Google alliance herd. Our plan: wait and see. Sounds like a solid one, no? We’re also not opposed to some wager cash changing hands.

CONSTRUCTING / DECONSTRUCTING CULTURE

Inspired by the classical busts of the Roman Republic, Seattle-based artist Scott Fife works sculptural wonders out of cardboard and pencil. The artist’s architectural training meshes brilliantly with his anthropomorphic studio work to deliver something completely immune to the seen-it-before epidemic.

Scott grew up in the golden age of advertising and large-format magazines, which bred a fascination with pop culture. Then one day, as a student at Cronbrook, he was cleaning up an Andy Warhol show and was taken with the irreverence of the legendary Warholian pop art.

Twenty-five years later, Fife has coined his own strikingly distinct style of culturally-relevant pop art — and pop it is: he’s done sculptures of anyone from Frida Kahlo to Bob Dylan to Popeye. And his scope of vision encompasses culture in its entirety, from the raw to the avant-garde. He’s also sculpted revolutionaries, pin-up girls, Witness his creative process in the making of Lionel Hampton in stop-motion.

We dig the tangible human element in his art: the process of constructing by hand, the indulgence of the traditional by using only old-school tools, the promise of accomplishment engrained in the sense of building. And, for what it’s worth, Scott Fife’s creations strike us more than Warhol’s ever did.

Fine, let the hate mail pour in.

STREET PICKINGS

Midway between Chinatown and Center City stands this architectural pariah and social darling.

Graffiti

And while graffiti sightings are as common as big pharma claims ED to be, this one’s an interesting burst of colorful self-expression in a bland surrounding of industrial murk.

Ah, the power a spray can holds to a face-in-the-crowd teenager.

Angles, Visions and Illusions

By:

Art hearts, saving cyclists, 16 feet of genius, whiteboard wonders, surfing with your posse, mouthing off online, what sex triangles have to do with printing, and why the paranormal is a matter of shutter speed.

THE ART OF THRIFT

Back in the day, we introduced you to Tiny Showcase, the brilliant enterprise that lets artists and art enthusiasts pursue their passions through affordable prices, even donating a portion of profits to a charity of each artist’s choice.

Today, we bring you another art visionary: we*heart*prints, a compilation of great sticker- shockless prints from contemporary artists.

For anywhere between $20 and $150, you can get your art-lovin’ hands on original, anything-but-bland work from folks who do it for anything but the money — while still helping them make rent.

But wait too long and it’s gone — stuff sells out fast. Great for artists, bad for slacker art lovers.

SPIRIT OF GIVING

This year, we’re spreading the holiday guilt-trip-giving spirit early.

Relax, it’s all cool stuff — literally. Like those LED Christmas lights you can get instead of the traditional incandescent variety to save energy, maintenance efforts and “fuck, that was hot!”exclamations upon touch. That’s right, these nifty suckers consume 90% less energy than the standard fare, have a lifetime 10 times that of incandescent ones (so they’re like the CFL’s of mini-lights), and don’t heat up at all (which is why they can afford to be covered by thick plastic rather than “shit, what did I just step on?” glass). And, just like CFL’s, they may cost a bit more, but you’ll be sparing that billboard-powering cycling volunteer some major pedal time. (Remember that from Brain Pickings 1.0 a year ago?)

DAMAGED / GENIUS

The human brain. We’re a little bit obsessed with it here. Its touch is everywhere, from the art inspired by its inner storms, to the complex software modeled after it, to the humor that tickles it. In fact, we’ll argue it’s the greatest product in existence.

But like all products, the human brain is susceptible to glitches in the assembly line. Glitches that result in what society deems “damaged goods.” Glitches like Alzheimer’s disease, Autism, Tourette’s Syndrome and other neurodevelopmental or neurodegenerative diseases.

And based on this social yardstick, Stephen Wiltshire is damaged goods. The 33-year-old British man was diagnosed with Autism when his was a kid and spent his childhood as a mute because he couldn’t relate to other humans. He was sent to a “special school”, where he spent most of his solitary time drawing. Soon, the hobby became his only way of communicating with the world and it became apparent that Stephen had an extraordinary talent.

But the school decided to use the gift to “normalize” him — they took away his drawing supplies so he would have to ask for them, forcing him to speak. And speak he did — his first word was “paper.” By age nine, he was fully verbal. Far more impressively, he was also fully able to draw areal images from imagination (like the imagined effects of an earthquake) and recall to astounding detail.

Stephen is an artistic autistic savant. In 1987, ex-president of the Royal Academy Sir Hugh Casson called him “the most talented child artist in Britain.”

Today, Stephen’s talent has reached new heights. He flies in a helicopter over major cities (Tokyo, Rome, Frankfurt, Hong Kong) and draws panoramic views of the city on a 16-foot-long canvas, down to the most amazing details like the exact number, proportion and position of windows on each building.

Read Stephen’s full life story, check out the gallery of his mind-blowing work and/or buy some prints of this testament to the capacity of the human brain. Meanwhile, see how he crafts a panorama of Rome after he hovers over the great city.

Damaged goods? You be the judge — if you can wrap your own brain around the magic of this one.

THE FLIPSIDE

While seeing a depiction of the world so perfectly linear, static and accurate is impressive, it’s also fascinating to look at the kind of art that interprets the world much like our brains operate: in a non-linear, dynamic, constantly shifting fashion.

Which is why we dig this stop-motion by artist Kristofer Strom, done entirely on a whiteboard — just like the blank slate of our perception uses static shapes and time to interpret complex motion.

See more of the same great art/design vision at Ljudbilden & Piloten.

THE SOCIAL SURFER

Ah, the social web. It stopped being a catchphrase ages ago and now it’s just a fact of life. As is multitasking. So to address the seemingly omnipresent web multitasker, a bunch of web masterminds have just released Flock.

And we dig it because these guys seem to share our passion for a genuine understanding of consumer behavior — the online reflection of which has changed tremendously in recent years, but the fundamental application that propels it — the web browser — hasn’t necessarily kept up. So how about a browser’s that’s the intersection of media, people, and discovery?

flockscreen.png Dubbed The Social Web Browser, this smart newbie aims to give users the most fulfilling experience across all information platforms, from gathering to exchange to self-expression to interaction, as well as across all media. As soon as you login to all your favorite social networking and sharing services, Flock pulls your friends from them into the browser so you can access them whenever. You choose how much you want to see and how often so you can keep track of when your friends have updated their profiles, access their shared media, share web stuff with them, and stay generally connected via whatever services you’re craziest about. See how the magic happens.

A bunch of new themes and extensions are coming soon, but the Flock crew promises a best-of-Firefox fiesta.

Although it’s compatible with Mac, Linux and PC operating systems, its interface and functionality decidedly have our beloved Mac feel — sharing with friends is a drag-and-drop heaven. At the top of your browser window, you get a scrollable filmstrip view of photo and video streams from Facebook, Flickr, PhotoBucket, Piczo, Truveo, YouTube and others. And, of course, the whole ordeal is appropriately open-source so you can code-write your heart out.

Our only caution: not ideal for those 12″ screens. But, hey, now you have yet another excuse to get that spiffy 15″ MacBook Pro.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gif
And speaking of social, we keep drumming on and on about the power of word of mouth, about how online reviews can make or break a consumer product, and guess what: it’s been confirmed.
Turns out, there’s a particularly WOM-hungry group of net dwellers out there now called “social researchers.” In the yet-to-be-released “Social Shopping Survey 2007,” PowerReviews probed 1,200 people who regularly shop online and spend more than $500 annually. They found that a good 65% of these folks are “social researchers” — a set who actively hunts down consumer reviews before buying stuff and bases final purchase decision on them. More on those WOM-ravenous shoppers:

  • 78% spend over 10 minutes reading the reviews for a single product they’re interested in
  • 64% research products online at least half the time, regardless of where they end up actually buying
  • 82% prefer sifting though consumer reviews to finding out about the product from a knowledgeable store staffer

Ok, we’re off to finally buy that PowerShot we’ve been lusting after with the stellar Amazon reviews.

RAG DEPARTMENT

Okay, the last thing we wanna be is an industry tabloid: enough people talking about Wal-Mart sex triangles and Dentsu upskirt shots of Kournikova already. But we just heard something too gotta-spill to keep to ourselves.

hp2.jpgFresh from our Rumors Allegations, and Gossip department: seems like Hewlett-Packard is cooking up a new web-based service to address the marketing, design, production and printing needs of small business. There’s also some sort of personalized marketing consultancy involved. The mystery creative solutions service will offer pretty much everything an old-school ad agency would: logo design, direct mail, website hosting and design, collateral, online banner advertising, search optimization, print design and production, copywriting and more. And, of course, a promise of affordability.

We’re not exactly sure how HP will attempt to pull this off. (Craigslist wanteds for unemployed creative folk come to mind. And more stock photography than should be legal.) But we’re not surprised: HP has been pushing the “creativity” message big time lately, mostly thanks to some fresh work from Goodby and the recent Gwen Stefani endorsement with its various extensions.

We’re just not exactly convinced their end products won’t end up a tad too close to a certain NASA page.

GHOST OF ART

Yes, it’s real.

hundley2.png

It’s William Hundley‘s completely in-camera, completely haunting, completely brilliant photography. The Entoptic Phenomena project isn’t a product of Photoshop, the wind, or paranormal forces. It’s the work of Hundley’s creative mind…and his social circle.

hundley1.png

The secret: Hundley has his friends jump completely covered in fabric and snaps shots of them mid-air. We love the eerie vibe of the result. Also not too shabby: the photographer’s boldness with colors, patterns and textures.

See his the full project and its interesting extensions. (Our favorite: Friends, in which the Entoptic Phenomena awkwardly share space with static everyday characters.)