Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

14 MARCH, 2008

Context vs. Controversy

By:

You’re a clichè, lots of skin, stuff that killed people, stuff that will kill you, policing the police, what Hitler is finding painfully unfunny, which European is holding suburban America hostage, how to get $80,782 from people who like you, and why the paparazzi are finally out of business.

BEYOND NASCAR

Making waves with a new website launch is so hard these days, what with taken domain names and beaten been-done-before concepts. Alas, newcomer Stuff White People Like, having dodged both 2.0 kisses of death, is off to a critically acclaimed start — and we think it has sprouted a new trend we like to call “affectionate stereotyping.”

whitepeople.png

But sensationalist title aside, the witty blog doesn’t actually talk about race at all — it’s more about a certain economic subset united by the common gene for Christopher Guest movies, “The” bands, Whole Foods, Nordic furniture, and Obama. And, somehow, it manages to capture those tastes surprisingly well, indulging the shared disdain for certain mainstream pastimes (say, television) to nail the exceptions (say, The Wire.) In fact, it does it so well you should consider yourself warned: you may end up feeling like a far too common, albeit culturally elitist, walking clichè. Do you have bad memories of high school? Listen to public radio? Got a lot of t-shirts? Hate “The Man”? Recycle? Then you’re a figurative “white person.” They even got us on the Michel Gondry front. Shame. See the full list, then join us in a disillusioned head-down retreat to the “white person” factory. But, in all seriousness, this is easily the smartest blog we’ve come across in a long time. Between all the “affectionate stereotyping” and the captivating, witty voice, it somehow manages to ask all the big questions of identity, society, culture, politics and life. Plato couldn’t have done it better himself — despite his quintessential ancient white personness.

LARGER THAN LIFE

Campaign for Real BeautySpeaking of social trends, could fat be the new phat? We’re not talking about the acclaimed but oh-so-over- discussed Real Women of Dove, who are actually quite the hot stuff. We’re talking way, um, realer.

Like the “models” British celeb megaboober Katie Pierce, who goes by the alter ego Jordan, used in the launch of her eponymous lingerie line. The 29-year-old Anna-Nicolesque Brit tapped girls from her fan club to do the job — we’re resisting a joke about her “biggest admirers.” Unsuccessfully.

bigballet.png Then there’s the Big Ballet — another U.K. phenomenon that, Turkey Lake jokes aside, has been said to put good ol’ skinny ballet acts to shame. In fact, the tour has gotten so big the ensemble is extremely hard to book.

But, really, there’s a King Pin in fat town. Big Fat Deal has been around since 2004, dissecting with snark and irreverence the pop culture portrayals of weight and “hottyness.”

But the blog, written by the mysterious duo of Weetabix and mo pie, has enjoyed a recent spike in popularity. It’s even got a Facebook group. We’re pretty ambivalent about the premise here — BFD works under the “fat acceptance” mantra — given our tax dollars are paying for the costs of obesity. But we must admit good questions are being asked and good points are being made. Like how come fat women feel betrayed when a fat celebrity gets back into shape? And why are fat people expected to slim down, but get mocked when they exercise?

Trans-fat-loaded food for thought, have a bite.

MEMOIRS OF NOSTRADAMUS

We like the present. Mostly because it’s a lot like us: egocentric. So we’ve always dug indulgences like Today In Music History. But because we’re all about making people uncomfortable this week, we turn to times when the present was less of a gift: a “today in disaster history” dose of morbidity brought to you by The Living Almanac of Disasters.

Earthquakes. Fires. Floods. Crashes. Eruptions. Collisions. Bombings. It’s got it all. Twenty-eight years ago today, for example, 22 members of the US boxing team died in a crash in Poland. Or on our birthday, when in 1945 the Empire State Building took its first hit by an airplane.

So check your birthday. Your anniversary. (Like you need another disaster on that date.) The day you lost your virginity. Hey, let’s go crazy: the day you had your first prostate exam. Superstition stopping you? Phsh.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gif If all the disaster talk got you paranoid, here’s a refreshing reality check about what could actually kill you and with what likelihood. Because common availability bias (our tendency to overestimate the statistical prevalence of things we’re bombarded with in the media or have experienced ourselves) can really do a number on your objectivity. So here are your chances of dying from select non-health-related causes in the U.S.:

  • Motor vehicle accident: 1 in 100
  • Homicide: 1 in 300
  • Fire: 1 in 800
  • Firearms accident: 1 in 2,500
  • Electrocution: 1 in 5,000
  • Asteroid/comet impact: 1 in 20,000
  • Passenger in aircraft accident: 1 in 20,000
  • Flood: 1 in 30,000
  • Tornado: 1 in 60,000
POLICE POLICE

And now for some real controversy — how much transparency should there be in government? According to Rate My Cop, an online forum where people voice raves and rants about police officers, a lot.

Under the tagline “You have the right to remain informed,” the privately-held website aims to do just that — keep citizens informed about the positives and negatives of the police force serving them. Because, after all, the police is a public service — so giving the public a say is only natural. Especially in light of the infamous Cop vs. Skater video of uncalled for police brutality that garnered over 4 million views in under a month.

The site encourages people to rate — anonymously but responsibly — each encounter they have with a police officer. And while we dig the concept of citizen empowerment through information and conversation, we wonder whether in this day and age of American Idol text voting and mass bandwagoning just for the sake of it, rating something as serious as the national police force may become a petty game of saying anything just to avoid saying nothing.

URGE TO PURGE

120 Funny Swastika Cartoons Our product pick this week is the latest book by famed New Yorker cartoonist S. Gross. We Have Ways of Making You Laugh: 120 Funny Swastika Cartoons is, from the paradoxically comic title to the very last page of stellar artwork, an exercise in purging some of history’s heaviest burdens through humor.

In the publisher’s own words: “These witty, beautifully rendered images gleefully stomp through the darkest moments in history and remind us that humor can diffuse our unspoken fears and deflate an overwrought icon.”

Which resonates nicely with one of our favorite quotes by author and humorist Mary Hirsch. “Humor is a rubber sword — ” she says, “it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” That, and it’s funnier than watching other people’s cats fall in toilets on YouTube.

LITTLE CHOP OF HORRORS

Found Saw disturbing? Thought No Country For Old Men was gratuitously violent? Then don’t go anywhere near what’s already being dubbed this year’s most disturbing film: Funny Games. It’s the latest work in English by acclaimed Austrian director Michael Haneke of Caché fame, starring (of course) the supreme Naomi Watts.

It’s about a well-off all-American family forced to make excruciating decisions about each other’s fates as they are all taken hostage by a ruthless duo of psychotic young misanthropes. And it’s already making waves in the critics circles.

Now, we’ve done a few brief stints in the psychology of violence and its effects on human thought, especially children. So we’re often thrown off by the gratuitous violence of today’s entertainment. But it’s interesting to see something that puts violence in the context of moral choice, making people extremely uncomfortable not by virtue of the violence itself but by posing the big, uncomfortable human questions.

Get uncomfortable starting March 14 at a theater near you.

OUTMANNING THE MAN

As if there isn’t enough controversy in today’s music industry already, one artist is doing the unthinkable: Jill Sobule is asking fans to fund her next record. That’s all the clearly talented singer-songwriter could do after she got dumped by two major record labels and two indie ones went bankrupt on her tenure. (Her ego must be on life support.)

She’s offering 12 levels of “pledges” fans can donate to: for $10, you get a digital download of the album once it’s made; at the $200 “silver level,” you get free admission to all her shows this year; then there’s the $500 “gold level” wherein Jill gets to mention your name in a song — you can upgrade that to the $750 “gold doubloons level,” which Jill says is “exactly like the gold level, but you give [her] more money.” (Gotta love it.) Or, you can go all-out with the $10,000 “weapons-grade plutonium level” in which you get to actually sing on her CD.

 width= We give her points for extreme inventiveness. But points don’t get you published — she set a $75,000 goal. Well, guess what — in a little over a month, she more than met it and capped out at $80,782. How’s that for proving Kevin Kelly’s brilliant 1000 True Fans theory right?

And we must say this ultimate power-to-the-people thing is pretty awesome — traditionally, fans have always played a huge role in the music industry because their buying power ultimately decides what succeeds. But why not empower them even further back in the music production process, letting them decide not just what sells but also what gets made in the first place? Smart, we say, smart.

IMAGE AND LIKENESS

Alison Jackson has been on our radar for quite some time. We weren’t sure what to make of her work — she shoots celebrity lookalikes in classic paparazzi scenarios to a strikingly realistic effect, indulging us with what we secretly hope to see our favorite celebs doing. But then we heard her rather thought-provoking TED talk (aren’t they all?) and had a thought:

Her work is being criticized for glorifying the cheap business of tabloid and celebrity even more, but it actually does the very opposite: it makes us really think about why we’re drawn to celebrity culture in the first place. It makes all those pop culture idols seem like nothing more than packageable images. And it’s those superficial images we consume, not the real values of the people behind them — otherwise, why would lookalikes elicit the same emotional responses from us that real celebrity snapshots do?

Take a peek.

07 MARCH, 2008

Re:thought

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Sprouting phones, The Junkyards, corporate rarities, Emile Hirsch murders his wife, what film icon is going into Hollywood’s “other” film industry, how your mom scammed you, and why salad is the fundamental folly of capitalism.

GEECO COOL

Geeks and eco-freaks alike rejoice: you can now both be happy as larvae in chicken poop and call each other on the world’s first sustainable cell phones. Because, despite their ubiquity — or perhaps because of it — cell phones are given very little thought between the store and the dumpster. Out of the one billion phones produces annually across the globe, only 10% are recycled — the rest are swapped for a new one every 18 months, ending up in all the world’s landfills.

So Nokia researchers, inspired by a bit of cultural anthropology, technology…and, okay, maybe a bit of pressure from Wall Street, set out to change things. Whatever the motive, we dig the latest concept phone from the world’s largest mobile-phone maker: the Nokia Remade.

It’s a cell phone made entirely of recycled waste: aluminum cans for the shell, plastic bottles for the chassis and car tyres of the key mats. And we think it’s quite the looker, too. Think of it as the Simple of cell phones.

Then there’s the even more technologically outlandish and ecologically brilliant concept of the Bamboo phone: one of the top entries in the 2008 Core77 Green Gadgets Design Competiton.

Bamboo PhoneIt’s not just made from eco-friendly materials like corn-based bio-plastic and bamboo. It’s also entirely biodegradable and, once you remove the battery and antenna, the case can go in your favorite compost pile. There, it decomposes withing a few weeks. Then — no joke — it actually grows bamboo shoots: the case is filled with seeds.

So could concept phones be the new concept cars? Great in theory, but never really hit market in any sort of world-changing way? We hope not — cause we’ll take the Remade over the iPhone any day. Better yet, Steve Jobs, save that Diet Coke can — it’s back to the lab.

DRIVING MUSIC

And, hey, why stop at technology? Repurposed materials are a brilliant fit for art. Case in point: the Car Music Project.

It started in 1994 with the slow yet noisy demise of a certain old Honda Accord. Except that particular shackwagon was American composed Bill Milbrodt’s faithful old Honda Accord. So he decided a junkyard end was not enough: he envisioned a resurrection of the car, one that turned it into music multiple musicians could play and interpret.

Car Music Project So he got a team of auto experts to take the car apart, then hired metal sculptor Ray Faunce III to hand-craft musical instruments from the parts. The result — a stunning orchestra of brass, wind, percussion and string instruments.

Fast-forward to today. The U.K. division of Ford used the Car Music Project in commercial work for the Ford Focus which, granted, does take away from the project’s street cred but it also introduces a whole new wide audience to this novel way of thinking. The resulting TV spot, if you can abstract yourself from the mediocre vocals, the music video cliches and the awkwardly forced presence of the car, is an impressive testament to Milbrodt’s revolutionary brilliance.

Although vaguely reminiscent of a fantastic Cannes-recognized spot for, coincidentally, Honda — at least to the extent that it “plays” the car — it’s truly a rarity of unconventional thought. Well played, Milbrodt, well played.

DRIVING ART

More cars and art: we’re pretty cynical about any kind of corporate-backed art endeavors, but we’ve had our eye on the Scion Installation Art Tour since it first made waves 5 years ago. After all, the quirky car — the ultimate four-wheel tribute to the subjectivity of taste and beauty — should fit right into the irreverent, revolutionary corners of the art world.

Which it has — since 2003, the Installation has toured nearly every major cultural epicenter in the US.

Andrew PommierLast year, it embarked upon its 4th annual tour titled “It’s a Beautiful World” — and starting this weekend, it’s making a stop right here in Philly. Between March 7 and March 21, cutting-edge new talent across collage, painting, photography and sculpture will be showcasing mind-bending work at the F.U.E.L. Collection, better known as “the Real World house,” on 3rd and Arch.

The featured artists hail from a ton of backgrounds, mindsets, nationalities, disciplines and perspectives. So it looks like a phenomenal show. And to wrap up the season, all the art will be auctioned off at the Intstallation’s last stop in L.A., with 100% of proceeds going to art-related charities.

So who’s joining us at F.U.E.L. this week?

DEJA VU GIVES YOU VERTIGO

We’re suckers for Hitchcock and don’t think the current debased state of Hollywood culture could ever outdo him. Which is why we dig Vanity Fair’s 2008 Hollywood Portofilio, the centerpiece of their 14th Annual Hollywood Issue: it pays creative tribute to Hitchcock, forsaking the illusion of outdoability and embracing instead a vision of redoability.

Four Vanity Fair photographers worked their magic with 21 top contemporary actors to recreate 11 iconic Hitchcockian scenes.

To our ultimate delight, one of our favorite actors, Scarlett Johansson, was cast in our favorite Hitchcock: Rear Window. Which we also find to be a perfect metaphor for the entire project: the voyeurism that backbones the film’s plot blended with the inherent voyeurism of today’s celebrity culture.

The full lineup of talent: Casey Affleck, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Julie Christie, Marion Cotillard, Robert Downey Jr., Ben Foster, Jodie Foster, Emile Hirsch, Scarlett Johansson, Keira Knightley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, James McAvoy, Omar Metwally, Gwyneth Paltrow, Seth Rogen, Eva Marie Saint, Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts, Tang Wei, and Renée Zellweger.

See all 11 photographs, watch how the magic happened, and rent some original Hitchcock this weekend. Which of his timeless characters would you play?

IDEA BUG IN ACTION

More celebrities and film: guess what Isabella Rossellini is up to these days. Nope, it’s not Hollywood — it’s more Sundace Channel meets Discovery. After last week’s exploration of the biosphere’s creative potential, we’re glad to find Rossellini joining us…although she skews less ornithology and more pornithology.

The iconic model- slash-actor-slash- filmmaker is writing, directing and starring in Green Porno — a Sundance Channel series of short films on the sex life of bugs. Clad in various insect costumes and humping cardboard decoys, she somehow gets the magic of it across in a brilliant way, shot with a mix of childlike simplicity and German Expressionism.

Weird? Perhaps. Avant-garde? No question. Tremendously insightful, enlightening and inspiring? Absolutely.

Here’s to another cultural artifact that blends the science and art worlds in a strikingly refreshing way. And, um, those house flies are getting us all hot and bothered…not in their usual midsummer rotting garbage way.

NAUGHTICAL ADVENTURES

Aqua EroticaIf all the humping bugs got you in a certain mood, then you’re in luck: our product pick of the week is just the thing. It also happens to be a world innovation in, um, bookbinding. Because Aqua Erotica claims to be “the first-ever waterproof book for adults.”

(Wait, there was a waterproof book for kids? One more thing we missed out on in childhood, thanks mom.)

We’re not quite sure what to make of all the boastful claims veiled in amusingly cheesy tropes. But, hey, be your own judge — whatever floats your duckie.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gif

We love Wired. We love eye-opening data. We’re also health freaks. So this week’s Untrivia borrows from the good folks at Wired — this nifty data visualization from January’s issue is just too good to not share. Not because we didn’t already know the healthiest foods are found on periphery of the store and the obesity-propagating stuff of insane energy densities lurks in the middle. But because this visual representation drives a bigger point home:

Nutritional Values (via Wired)

The point: there’s something fundamentally broken in our economic model. How come the healthiest foods are also the most expensive on a cost-per-calorie basis? All the government aid to the poor seems moot: food stamps to barely afford those cheap unhealthy foods, then medicare to slap a Band-Aid on the obesity-driven results.

Why not just cut back on those corn subsidies (hello, corn syrup, you number-one obesity culprit) and pour a bit into, say, organic farming? The recent Farm Bill gave $42 billion in subsidies to commodities (yep, those Reese’s Cups and Pringles would be it) and a mere $1.6 billion to fruit and vegetable.

Seems like the government can learn a thing or two from Michael Pollan.

08 FEBRUARY, 2008

New Ways of Doing

By:

Extreme fathers, liberating stuff that won’t get you arrested, constraining stuff that’ll liberate you, a 30-pound lump, couture with a conscience, why spices are hot, how the Germans do it, and where to find the world’s most available man.

FATHER’S EYE

AlisonWe don’t like contrived adages. Which is why we have a really hard time swallowing “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” But, somehow, it’s the only thing that springs to mind while looking, hypnotized and stunned, at Jack Radcliffe’s photoseries Alison.

The passionate photographer took the usual new parent excitement over photographing his firstborn to unusual heights. Over the course of 30 years, he stole candid photos of his daughter, Alison, capturing anything from pre-school ballet practice to scary-makeup, grumpy-faced, cigarette-swinging teen angst to peace-of-mind-exuding adulthood.

The camera became a part of our relationship, necessitating in me an acceptance, a quietness.” ~ Jack Radcliffe

Beyond being an amazing exercise in being part of his daughter’s life without judgment or censorship, the project also gave Radcliffe a profound appreciation and understanding of human relationships in all of their extremities, intimacies and fluidity.

See what he saw — it’ll be worth it even if it extracts from you only a fraction of the rich emotion that so clearly inspired it.

IMAGE REIMAGINED

And while we’re exploring the rich emotional world of visual media, how about something to make the exploration experience itself richer? We have an official favorite Firefox add-on: PicLens. It’s designed to transform your web image browsing into a fully immersive 3D experience, both stunning and functionally efficient.

PicLensWhenever you search for images on Google, Yahoo, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, MySpace and more, PicLens turns your screen into an “interactive wall” on which you can drag, zoom, click, scroll and just awe at your search results. There’s even a search box within the interface that lets you search the web for images right in the 3D view.

Our favorite feature: say you do a Google image search for “brain.” The traditional way, you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results sprawled across hundreds of thousands of pages. Who has the time and the patience for clicking “NEXT” 100 times? Well, not someone with PicLens: because in PicLens, all the resulting images show up in the endless 3D wall, which you can just keep scrolling through until you spot exactly what you need.

Fast, fun, and incredibly liberating. Available for both Mac and PC.

PICTURELESS PICTURE BOOK

But, hey, don’t let the absence of image stop you from having a rich visual experience. It didn’t stop photographer Michael David Murphy. In 2004, he took a trip to Ethiopia, but was forbidden from bringing a camera — in a lot of Muslim countries, photography is shunned, especially if it entails photographing women. So he found himself in a curious new world full of compelling image, but unable to capture it.

Until he discovered words, that is. Driven by the burning need to capture (and aren’t all great discoveries kindled by a burning need?), he came up with Unphotographable — a collection of missed opportunities, moments he was unable to photograph, a “catalog of exceptional mistakes.” He lives in literary sin, but his endless run-on strings of simple words are Shakespearean in their conceptual impact.

unphotographable.png

Besides the originality of the concept, we love how it fails at the failure to capture — because, as a reader, you can’t not build an image in your mind’s eye. Call it human imagination. Call it visual assembly. But, really, it’s just that same old proxy photography our brains are wired for, the kind inherent to all storytelling.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

THE OTHER ECO-TRASH CONNECTION

No more Filthadelphia. As of 2008, Philly is sporting its very first BigBelly solar-powered garbage compactor at the corner of 36th and Chestnut, courtesy of University of Pennsylvania’s continued push for sustainability. (Penn is already one of the largest buyers of wind energy on the East Coast and, at 27%, gets more of its power from wind than any other higher-education entity in North America — possibly the world.)

Posing like a regular big trash can, the BigBelly has a 30-watt solar panel on its top that charges the battery powering the compactor. From there, it compresses the whole bellyful of trash into a single 30-pound lump. (Which happens to be how much trash the average American produces per week.) That way, waste management folks need to take far fewer trips to empty it — a traditional bin of the same capacity in that location would have to be emptied 3-4 times per day, while this friendly chubs only takes 3 trips per week.

truck.jpgEight times the efficiency comes with ten times the coolness: the BigBelly is equipped with WiFi, which it uses to send cleaning folk a signal once it’s full. And in case it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia, BigBelly needs just one day of sunlight to power it for the whole week.

Sure, it may come with a $5,000 price tag. And we may wish everyone just recycled everything. And we may, for that matter, hold our breath until all man-made materials were recyclable and non-toxic. But we have to applaud a step in the right direction when we spot one — and given that American garbage trucks alone consume over 20 million gallons of fuel per week, the BigBelly is a pretty gigantic step.

GREEN AND GORGEOUS

Okay, so sustainability doesn’t have to reek — it gets a lot more glamorous than garbage. Just take what went down the other day at the opening of New York Fashion Week.

Top-notch designers joined the Earth Pledge by sending designs made from recycled, renewable, reusable, organic, non-polluting fabrics down the FutureFashion runway.

Whether it’s organic cotton in Jeffrey Chow or hemp in Derek Lam, the collections were anything but granola, ranging from street wear to evening couture — organic wool, bamboo, corn-based fibers, recycled biopolymers and all.

We won’t judge how much of it is bandwagoning and greenwashing. We’re just glad fashion consumers are being educated about the options out there, about the big ocean of difference that all the little drops of choices add up to.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifWhile we don’t like to call ourselves “trend-hunters” (because it sounds just sooo untrendy…), we do like to throw a prediction out every once in a while. And now is one such once. This one is about nutrition science and health trends.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen our share of “super-foods.” Soy. Green tea. Pomegranate. Acai. Those were the antioxidant powerhouses. And that’s before we even get to the flavonoids in red wine and chocolate. Or the heart-saving, cholesterol-reducing omega-3’s in fish and nuts. After each super-food reached a tipping point in both science and social buzz, you’d see it pop up on the ingredients label, then move up-front-and- center on the packaging of any food that could claim even a molecule.

spices.jpgRecently, more and more research has emerged on the powerful health benefits of various spices, from some shared attributes like high antioxidant content, cancer-fighting potency and antibacterial, to the specific health benefits of each. (The irony, of course, is that all these herbs and spices have been recognized and used for their medicinal properties for centuries in various Asian, African, European and South American cultures, who most likely arrived at them the old-school way: trial and error. But we had to wait for that exact same process to be performed in our fancy-shmancy research labs, published in our pompous peer-reviewed medical journals, and regurgitated for us by the mass media. And now we’re eating it all up.)

There’s cinnamon, found to keep blood sugar in check. Cayenne pepper, which improves blood flow, fights heart disease and wards off headaches. Ginger, a powerful digestion aid and a killer of ovarian cancer cells. Garlic, with its strong antibiotic properties and protective value against heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. The latest super-spice: turmeric. The orange-yellow powder, better known to us common folk as an ingredient in those delish Indian curries, contains curcuminoids — active ingredients now recognized for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties, which in turn help fight cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. We could go on, but there’s a bigger point here.

And the point is that medicinal super-spices — and we stand by this one with enormous conviction — are the next big nutrition trend. They’ll soon be popping up in everything from beverages to cereals to energy bars and more. We’ll go work on our toldja-so dance now.

FORM, FUNCTION AND FILLET MIGNON

All that food talk got us hungry. And since we’re multitaskers at heart, it’s hard not to appreciate the brilliant concept of the Cook-N-Dine grill tables. Combining a table and a flameless grill, they offer a perfect fusion of appliance and furniture, of German utilitarianism and Japanese design sensibility.

Beneath the sleek German stainless steel surface lie three concentric functional circles. The flameless grill, in the middle, heats up to 450 degrees quickly, then the innermost part sinks down to collect any cooking juices. Once cooking is done, it rises back up. And the outermost dining area stays cold all throughout.

They come in various shapes and sizes, you can even install one on your bar-top or order a custom design. Pretty nifty, to the point of fully justifying its $1,600 price tag.

PLEASE STAY ONLINE

And speaking of upgrading old-school stuff and simplifying by multitasking, what better candidate than the familiar experience of a doctor’s appointment, complete with the 40-minute average wait time, the mounds of paperwork, the rude staff, and the germy waiting area? Dr. Jay Parkinson believes it doesn’t have to be that way. And he means business.

Dr. JayThe good doctor is the world’s first online-only-based physician who makes house calls and house calls only. His “office” is a website that looks more RGA than MD. And his credentials are as solid as the best of those found on brick-and- mortar walls.

But under the clean, Applesque design lies amazing functionality — the doc makes it all look so simple and effortless, from enrolling as a patient to reaching him anytime, any way you desire. (He’s always available on cell phone, email, IM, and MSN messenger.) And if you’re uninsured, he does some simple math for you to showcase how his service isn’t just better, it’s also much cheaper.

The doc is so progressive that he even deserted his traditional WordPress blog, deeming the concept too outdated and unsuitable for his mobile, tech-driven lifestyle. Instead, he moved to Tumblr where he can post via email, cell phone and IM.

At the very least, even if you’re insured and happily lugging yourself across waiting rooms, checking out his site will give you an even deeper understanding of (and contempt for) the devastating, penny-sucking bureaucracies of the medical industry. Sicko that.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0375869832/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=braipick-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0375869832&adid=02YXM5MD2VFTBCC5WMM6&Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

18 JANUARY, 2008

Culture-Crossing Subcultures

By:

$12,000 hot dogs, digital Olympics, friends with money, friends without, virtual bridges, virtual divides, what Atlantis has to do with high fashion, and why testosterone now comes in silver.

CULTURAL KNIT-PICKING

Guerrilla knitting. Yes, it exist. And it’s not a bunch of grannies running around town with gigantic needles in a bout of end-life crisis. It’s the practice of using knitting to create public art in clever, won’t-believe-this-was-knitted ways. It’s “knit graffiti.”

knit.pngIts roots can be traced to the early 70’s when British-born knitter Elizabeth Zimmerman was commissioned to knit a sweater based on a pre-canned knitting pattern. Which she did, except she radically rewrote the pattern with a proprietary system and set off the beginning of the “thinking knitters” movement, rising above the “blind followers” of patterns.

Now, we remember seeing a small knitted hot dog at an art gallery a couple of years ago, accompanied by a 5-digit price tag, at which point we promptly concluded this was the stuff of insanity. But despite our prior view of the craft, we recently came across a fascinating talk by sociologist Rose White on the history of guerrilla knitting that goes as far as aligning it with the history of computer hacking. And history aside, today’s guerrilla knitting has reached unbelievable levels of craftsmanship and creativity.

Sure, we still couldn’t swallow a $12,000 knitted hot dog. But maybe that’s just because we don’t have the knitted digestive system.

ARTIST-SLASH-ATHLETE

Hell hath no fury like a designer’s ego challenged. Or at least that’s what the guys behind Cut&Paste found in November of 2005 when they held the first digital design tournament, a live face-off judged by a panel of industry all-stars amidst a rowdy crowd of onlookers.

Today, Cut&Paste designathons have been held all over the world, spreading the tournament’s three-fold mission: to end designer anonymity, to bridge the gap between artists, clients, recruiters and consumers of good design, and to educate about how design really “happens” by cracking open the creative process.

And in case this is giving you the impression it’s all just fluff, rest assured: it’s hardcore. Designers get 15 minutes. They may bring in approved objects to capture with a digital camera, but these objects become available to everyone. And none of it can be artwork, images, pre-designed digital elements or anything that falls outside the strictly-from-scratch framework of the tournament.

It’s all worth it, though — besides the laurels and the street cred, winning designers get material kudos from the likes of Apple, Wacom and Adobe. Not bad, not bad at all.

And because it’s something this cool, it calls for a grateful nod in the direction of the tip-off, one friend-of-a-friend Mr. Richard Parubrub hailing from North Carolina. Gracias, señor.

FRIENDS WITH MONEY

LendingClubSure, money matters can inject a healthy dose of awkward into a conversation or a relationship. Especially between friends. But it doesn’t have to be that way, mostly because we live in a capitalist world where it’s only natural for our financial capital and social capital to intersect.

That’s where Lending Club comes in, a social lending network that lets members lend and borrow amongst themselves at rates much better than the bank’s. And because money ventures are also naturally likely to get you suspicious or skeptical, pull that eyebrow back down: Lending Club got major kudos from Barron’s, BusinessWeek, USA Today, and more. Which is no surprise since the folks behind it hail from big-timers like eBay, MasterCard, Wells Fargo, Agency.com, and aQuantive.

So far, over $5 million has changed hands since Lending Club launched last May. No wonder, what with all the careful screening (no sub-640 FICO scorers here), lending done entirely on members’ terms (you pick the level of risk you’re comfortable with, even what specific “need” to lend to), and the smart, proprietary lender- borrower matching system.

We could finish with some obvious pun on how networking really pays off. But let’s cut the clever crap — the concept is fucking genius.

REEL DIFFERENCE

Film. What a cultural commodity of the western world, one we take for granted and consume alongside popcorn. And what a way to treat the seventh art, one with enormous and often unexpected power.

FilmAid InternationalThankfully, there are visionaries out there using the overlooked medium to send a message of hope to those in the underprivileged world. FilmAid International uses film to enrich the disrupted lives of the millions of displaced people living in refugee camps all over the world. The simple act of hanging a 12-by-16-foot movie screen from the side of a truck has been making a tangible difference in the lives of refugees from Kosovo to Afghanistan to East Africa to Louisiana since 1999.

Sure, it’s easy to say that with no roof over your head and hardly any food on your folding table, film is the last thing you care for. But that’s such an underestimation of the far-reaching effects of psychological trauma, such a painful stab at the power of human imagination, the capacity to transcend the bite of the present and see hope in the future. Which is exactly what the million-and- counting viewers in FilmAid’s seven camps are doing. More than that, a 2006 study found that 96% of the project’s refugee audiences found it to reduce conflict and strengthen community building.

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Movie producer Caroline Baron, whose brainchild the project was, nails the answer to the why-film-when-no-food question: “I throw the question back to the refugees themselves. They say the film is food for them — that if their minds are not well, the food doesn’t help.”

If you’re feeling like putting a tiny stitch on a broken life today, make a small donation to keep the hope reel rolling.

PARALLEL VISION

For artist friends Stephanie and Mav, telecommunication wasn’t enough of a bridge between their creative brains when they had to move apart. Instead, last January they set up 3191, a visual blogging site named after the exact distance between their homes. Every morning for a year, each took pictures of herself and some other environmental element of her morning, then posted the pictures side by side on 3191.

The result: a joint photography project absolutely brilliant both in concept and in execution. So brilliant, in fact, that Princeton Architectural Press picked it up and is publishing 3191 a year of mornings this fall.

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Meanwhile, Stephanie and Mav are chasing the sun this year with project sequel 3191: a year of evenings. And suddenly, we feel like all those awful cliches about the beauty in the little everyday things are, well, not so cliched.

Simple. Stunning.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifThere’s little we love more than irreverent design, geeky web stuff and, um, data. Which is why we were delighted to discover the following take on today’s virtual world: a map-visualization of online communities and their related points of interest, wherein geographic areas reflect estimated membership bases.

And, um, anthropomorphic dragons? Wait, are they talking about Sergey and Larry?

Sure, we may take some issue with the accuracy, but the concept is nonetheless neat, playfully reminiscent of Grayson Perry’s brilliant “Map of an Englishman.”

AU REVOIR PARIS, CIAO MILAN

And whilst on the subject of geography and topography, who better to contribute than the masters of the man-made archipelago? Yep, Dubai is at it again, this time with Isla Moda: the world’s first blob of freestanding ground inhabited entirely by fashion.

The island is intended to be a global fashion hub, with boutiques from the world’s most celebrated designers, a slew of residential villas (set to go on sale for shameful amounts at the end of this quarter), and an extravagant fashion hotel. Dubai Infinity Holdings even plans to invite high-end designers from each continent to design the various pieces of the island. (We can’t wait for the one from Antarctica.)

At $80 million, this project seems to have outclassed class and outluxed luxury. Too bad global warming’s plans for it skew more Atlantis than fashion world atlas.

STREET PICKINGS

We’re not ones to put people in danger of overdosing on class. And it seems like neither is Philly.

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Oh, Philly, city of the enviable ability to see beauty (booty?) in the least likely of places. Wait, we take that back. This was actually spotted across the street from a respectable establishment sporting neon silhouettes and gentlemen walking out with brown paper bags in hand. In broad daylight.

Guess what: Philly’s just as fun when you don’t sleep over. Silver Sharpie on us.

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