Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

22 DECEMBER, 2009

Gift Guide Part 3: Free


DIY goodness, intellectual enrichment, and how to go cheap without being cheap.

This is the final installment in the curated 3-part Brain Pickings holiday gift guide. Today, we’re saluting thrift and last-minuteness with five priceless yet free gifts that show off your creative connoisseurship without making a dent in your wallet.


itunes.gifEveryone loves a good mixtape. But, let’s face it, it isn’t the most original — or, for that matter, the most intellectually enriching — of gifts. So why not put a personal growth spin on the cultural classic? iTunes is actually a fantastic resource for free podcasts and lectures from the world’s best universities, across a multitude of disciplines. Show off your eclectic yet refined taste by burning your giftee a mix of selected episodes from a few smart podcasts — think part sampler, part mixtape, part gift certificate to self-improvement.

Here are a few of our favorites to get you started:

Perfect for: Lifelong learners, personal growth fiends, the eclectically curious


We sung the praises of nothing a while ago, and it’s still one of the best gifts out there. It’s cheap, but you aren’t — it’s a clever and tongue-in-cheek choice that serves as a powerful antidote to our culture of excess. Your socially-conscious friends will appreciate it, and they won’t have to regift it along with that bizarre snow globe from grandma.

Perfect for: The environmentally concerned, those with a good conscience and good sense of humor


Here’s a wonderful DIY gift that’s both super cool and doable even with the craft skill level of a six-year-old — cork photo coasters.

All you need: Some photos, a pen, an X-acto knife, a few very, very basic art supplies and sheets of cork. Depending on your choice of photos, you can make the coasters artsy or personal, but either way, they’re bound to delight — not to mention save a coffeetable or two from those dreaded mug circles.

Perfect for: Everyone


Ah, the paper fortuneteller — what a fond childhood memory. But, if you’re like us, your adult self couldn’t make one to save your life. Thankfully, the good folks at eHow have put together a simple how-to video that revives this nostalgic gem.

Ramp up the cool factor by getting creative with the paper itself and/or slipping in a few clever, inside-jokey fortunes.

Perfect for: Retrostalgics, the kid at heart, those who value personal, non-generic gifts


Yes, we’re being shamelessly self-promotional — but that’s only because we fervently believe in our mission, and there’s no shame in that.

Brain Pickings aims to enrich people’s creative and intellectual scope by taking them on a curated journey into the great creative unknown — because we believe indiscriminate curiosity and exposure to cross-disciplinary interestingness fuels our inner capacity for creativity. So tickle a friend’s brain by introducing them to Brain Pickings — you can sign them up for our newsletter for a sampler, or just send them a simple note/email with our URL.

Inspired information is, after all, the greatest gift of all. So who cares if it doesn’t come in giftwrap and a red ribbon?

Perfect for: Everyone — especially the chronically curious, those immersed in creative culture

Psst, we’ve launched a fancy weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s articles, and features five more tasty bites of web-wide interestingness. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

18 DECEMBER, 2009

DoGooder: Do Nothing, Change Everything


How to bypass annoyance with slick design and serious dogoodness.

UPDATE: DoGooder is now available for Chrome, the Brain Pickings browser of choice. Perfect combo of performance and purpose.

This week, a new report found that the average American guzzles more than 34 gigabytes of data per day. And anyone who’s ever been online can attest that a hefty portion of this comes from advertising, which, with the exception of the best-curated sites (ahem…), can be anything from a distraction to a nuisance. This has led many to the infamous Adblock Firefox plugin, eliminating ads altogether. But why take your negative experience and turn it neutral, when you can turn it positive?

Enter DoGooder, an ingenious new browser plugin for Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer that turns your ordinary browsing into donations supporting sustainability initiatives and movements — with no cost to you and no change in browser performance.

Here’s how it works: DoGooder hides all the ordinary ads and swaps them out for simple daily green tips, health and wellness ideas, and well-designed messaging for meaningful initiatives from the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) category. Half of their profits then go to a thoughtfully curated list of charities and nonprofits — which means DoGooder has the potential to generate thousands of dollars a month for good causes.

If you’re a publisher, there’s nothing to fear — DoGooder doesn’t block ads from being served on your site, it just changes the end-user experience, so your CPM earnings remain unaffected. (Think of it as slipping a nice cover over a questionably designed couch.) If your run a charitable or sustainability-related site, you can even drop DoGooder a line and they’ll whitelist you and “exempt” your site from ad-blocking.

This is what a couple of popular sites look like goodified:

In the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, you can even keep track of how many ads have been swapped.

And if for some reason you’re particularly enamored with the regular ads on some site, you can always disable DoGooder there simply by right/ctrl-clicking on the site and selecting “Show Original Ads.” The right/ctrl-click is also the way to let DoGood Headquarters know about a good cause they should consider featuring — just select “Suggest a Cause to Support.”

Genius, or what?

Thanks, Andy

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14 DECEMBER, 2009

The Story of Cap & Trade


What lurks beneath the buzzwords and how to digest the hard-to-swallow.

You may recall The Story of Stuff — Annie Leonard’s brilliant 20-minute animated film, dissecting the “materials economy” and dispelling a number of sustainability myths.

This month, Leonard and her team release The Story of Cap & Trade, an equally cunning, captivating and fact-rich look at COP15’s favorite sustainability solution. The engaging, fast-paced film probes into the hidden dangers of the proposed (non-)solution, from how the biggest polluters are exploiting the system’s loopholes to why climate Band-Aids like fake offsets don’t work, and exposes the dysfunctional reverse logic at the core of the concept.

A growing number of scientists, students, farmers and forward-thinking business people are all saying, ‘Wait a minute…’ In fact, even the economists who invented the cap-and-trade system to deal with simpler problems […] say cap-and-trade can never work for climate change.

Though in this day and age, climate conspiracy theorists abound, Leonard’s film delivers a punchy yet sober account of an incredibly complex, multifaceted and little-understood issue — all in just under 10 minutes.

We like the idea of illuminating a political buzzword, allowing us common folk to digest the hype-coated serving of headline-worthy fluff. (We also like that the film puts its money where its mouth is and “recycles” some of the Story of Stuff footage, whether or not the wink is intentional.) Because without an open social conversation, there can’t be widespread understanding, which means there can’t be widespread action. And without that, COP15 is just a bunch of suits burning up jet fuel to spend a week in a Scandinavian hotspot.

Psst, we’ve launched a fancy weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s articles, and features five more tasty bites of web-wide interestingness. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.