Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘world’

18 SEPTEMBER, 2008

Globe-Trotting Goodness

By:

The big picture gets bigger, P2P filesharing gets legal, why the Japanese are better smilers than us, what Kentucky and Lithuania have in common, and how to replace the White House with a potato.

EARTH IS IN THE AIR

Today, we tour the world of ideas by touring the world of, well, the world — and we start our cultural journey in France, with photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

His entire body of work comes from an incredibly inspired humanistic and planetarian perspective, but we’re particularly taken with his project Earth From Above, a collection of 500,000 breathtaking aerial photographs shot across 100 countries on 6 continents. (You may recall our fascination with aerial photography from the Birdseye Visionaire special issue a while back.)

Each photograph in Earth From Above includes a caption by an expert on sustainable development, making the bigger picture all the clearer: the world is a precious, fragile being whose beauty and heritage we must try our hardest to preserve.

In Holland, for example, chemicals have seeped into the water and are causing a deterioration of the soil, endangering the 5-century-old tradition of flowering bulbs and The Netherlands’ astonishing crop of over 800 tulip varieties.

In 2005, Yann Arthus-Bertrand founded GoodPlanet.org, a nonprofit aimed at promoting and educating about sustainable development across the world through various creative projects.

Our favorite: the Alive Exhibition, a collection of stunning photographs that raise awareness about biodiversity and the need to look beyond our own species in caring for the planet.

MUSIC GOES DUTCH

Next, we move a little north towards those tulip-covered lands of Holland, where we take a look at up-and-coming Dutch indie rock band Silence Is Sexy.

Besides loving their sound — it’s distinctly unique, yet somehow makes us think of what would happen if Thom Yorke sang to the beats of Coldplay with the lyrical sensibility of Vampire Weekend — we have tremendous respect for their industry-revolutionizing choice of distribution.

We’ve long been singing the same old song about how the music industry’s business model is undergoing massive tectonic shifts. Now, Silence Is Sexy are joining our choir — their new album, This Ain’t Hollywood, was just released as a free, legal download on peer-to-peer torrent network Mininova.

Mininova actually has a powerful, free Content Distribution service aimed at doing just that: Helping indie artists and filmmakers discover new audiences, and helping musicologists discover up-and-coming acts.

Take that, Steve Jobs.

via Mininova Blog

KEYBOARD SAYS CHEESE

In honor of brilliant Japanese director Nagi Noda, who passed away at the pitiful age of 35 last week, we bring you a more obscure piece of Japanese culture you probably never knew about: Japanese smileys. These little weirdos are Japan’s answer to the sideways smileys that we all know (and often abuse), invented by Scott Fahlman in 1982.

Japanese Smileys Unlike those, Japanese smileys are read upright and their method of interpretation has a stronger focus on the expression of the eyes — which makes a lot of sense, since we remember from behavioral psych class that much of human emotion is indicated by the muscles surrounding the eye, just like we’re wired to distinguish a genuine smile — also known as a Duchenne smile — from a fake one through the presence (or absence) of those small crows-feet wrinkles in the outer corner of the eyes.

Most Japanese smileys can be created with a Western keyboard and your usual UTF-8 character set. For ones you can start texting to your friends immediately, check out this list. Meanwhile, a few of our favorites:

(^_^) Hi

(#^_^#) Blushing

(-¡-)y-~~~~ Smoke a cigarette

((+_+)) Ummmh

o(^-^o)(o^-^)o o(^-^o)(o^-^)o Dancing

(^_^)/~~ Bye

via Google Blogoscoped

ACCENT ON THE U

Are feeling all worldly and cultured yet? Don’t let it get to your head — let the good folks of Language Trainers Group show you who’s who with the Accent Game, an interactive quiz that puts your knowledge of different accents to the test: Folks from across the globe read Rudyard Kipling to you, then ask you to guess where they come from.

It’s harder than you think — take it from us and our ego-devastating score. Think you know a Finish accent from a Norwegian one, or Lithuanian from Estonian?

Don’t think you’ll get away with just the country, either. After each correct guess, you’re drilled on the country region the person comes from — Kentucky vs. Chicago may be on the easy side, but let’s see you do Cape Town vs. Pretoria or York vs. Birmingham.

And if you’re reaching for the map just reading this, shame on you and your middle school geography teacher.

via Very Short List

THE WORLD IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND

Eifel TowerWe’ll wrap up with an ultimate culture-crosser: Since 1999, London-born, Berlin-based photographer Michael Hughes has been trekking the world and dabbling in the simple wonders of perception — his collection Souvenirs playfully replaces some of the world’s greatest landmarks with their toy replicas using nothing but a camera and some strategic perspective.

In much of the collection, Hughes’ subtle and not-so-subtle snark comes through — like the image of the Trabant car model, a brand synonymous with all the ills that lurked behind the Iron Curtain, seemingly bursting through the remains of the Berlin Wall.

Souvenirs is part of an ongoing book project, so we’ll be sure to keep an eye on Hughes. Meanwhile, we got the sudden urge to go photo-replace the White House with a potato.

via Very Short List

04 JULY, 2008

Friday FYI: Happy Place

By:

Unicorns found in Denmark and why grandma is always right.

HAPPY PLACE

At times of existential crisis, we’ve all been on the verge of throwing in the towel, packing our bags, and booking that one-way ticket to California / Hawaii / some place other than Denmark, thinking we’d be our happiest there. Well, we were all wrong. Fresh data from University of Michigan’s 2008 World Values Survey found that, based on factors like economic prosperity, stability and democratic government, Denmark provided its citizens with the kind of environment most conducive to happiness.

In other words, Denmark is the happiest place on Earth.

The U.S., the world’s richest nation, ranked 16th out of the 97 countries indexed in the study — count on astronomical research grants to prove trite old adages. Like grandma used to say, “Money ain’t never gonna buy you happiness.”

As for the rest:

Top 10 Happiest Countries:

  1. Denmark
  2. Puerto Rico
  3. Colombia
  4. Iceland
  5. N. Ireland
  6. Republic of Ireland
  7. Switzerland
  8. Netherlands
  9. Canada
  10. Austria

Top 10 Most Miserable Countries:

  1. Zimbabwe
  2. Armenia
  3. Moldova
  4. Belarus
  5. Ukraine
  6. Albania
  7. Iraq
  8. Bulgaria
  9. Georgia
  10. Russia

There there, chin up now. On the bright side, this year’s World Values Study also found that overall levels of happiness in the world are rising. Out of the 52 countries for which there was data dating 17 years back, the happiness index rose in 40 and fell in just 12. And while the growth was inevitably tied to economic reasons (India’s index is the most rapidly-growing), the research found it had more to do with people’s freedom to live their lives the way they want to than with the mere financial bottom line.

So wherever your situation, consider the fact that you always have options. You have the freedom to screw it all any day you wish and go do whatever. That thought alone should sprout a rainbow.

And if that doesn’t work, just head over to Priceline and book that one-way to Denmark.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
11 OCTOBER, 2007

Hits, Punches and Other Impact

By:

Three-minute verdicts, humanitarian aid for your vocabulary, Brazilian models, hyper-social networking, what Harry Potter and the Yankees have in common, and where you can get a side order of sweaty hunk with lunch. Welcome to the Hits, Punches and Other Impact issue.

IMAGE VS. LIKENESS

Amnesty International, always the shocker, is on a latest spree to remind us that toy recalls are the least of China’s reputation problems. In a new campaign busting the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the human advocacy crew is out to expose the contrast between China’s marketing efforts and their internal practices, a discrepancy that reeks of blatant hypocrisy.

amnestywrestling.jpgTurns out, when China promised to kick up human rights for the 2008 Olympics, they went ahead and made a bunch of minor touch-ups to the death penalty system (a.k.a. itsy-blitzy change) and vouched to give foreign reporters more freedoms.

But “freedom” is the last thing one such investigative reporter, Zhao Yan of the New York Times, got when he tried to appeal his three-year prison sentence for an alleged political vendetta. The appeal was dismissed in under 3 minutes. He was recently released after completing the sentence.

Which is an unsurprising event, given a long-standing law has been allowing police to shove crime suspects in jail for up to 4 years without trial. Since 1957. That’s half a century of legalized anti-freedom, granting suspects not even a shot with the whatever loose justice system does exist. Meanwhile, China’s busy opening the world’s largest, blingest luxury airport.

The irony, of course, is that the entire marketing campaign to boost China’s international image for the Olympics is funded by the tax yuan of these very same people facing human rightlessness on a daily basis.

Read up on what’s wrong with that picture and check out the full Amnesty International creative.

VERBAL STEAL & DEAL

webst1.jpgThe wonderful people of the Red Cross bring all kinds of aid to those in need. Including the linguistic kind. Overheard in a shared restroom, we bring you this uncovered vocab gem of the week, courtesy of the lovely women of the American Red Cross:

Squidget |’skwijit|

noun: Too short to be a midget.

[Definition spoken in a matter-of-factly, isn’t-it-obvious tone by utterer upon inquiry.]

WON’T SEE THIS ON A BILLBOARD

We’re starting to understand why Brazil is on a mission to ban outdoor advertising: because they have so much higher standards for what constitutes compelling, culturally relevant visuals. (As opposed to, you know, babes-boobs-and-beer billboards.)

Case in point: 27-year-old artist Bruno 9li. Inspired by alchemy (even saying “alchemy” is pretty damn badass in and of itlsef), his ink-on-paper and mural art may just be Brazil’s hottest contribution to culture since Gisele Bundchen. (What, we do have to acknowledge the mainstream’s tastes. Chill out.)

In the sea of sameness (hello, pseudo-anime and anything with distorted doll heads), Bruno 9li’s work stands out as something we’ve never seen before. Do check out his full exhibit to feel a little more enriched, or at least a little closer to Gisele.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifThe college set. A small (18 million) and often annoying (ah, the swollen sense of entitlement) demo. But one with enormous market influence: a combined power of their own disposable income and what they puppy-eye their parents into buying, a solid, opinionated word-of-mouth network, a tendency to be early adopters of, well, pretty much anything, and a lifetime of consumption ahead of them. Their relationship with the marketing world, to say the least, matters.

So here’s a snapshot of how this dynamic has changed over the past couple of years. Anderson Analytics, a youth-oriented market research getup, sets out every year to probe what brands the kids are digging via their annual GenX2Z College Brand Survey. A top-line:

2005: Nike, Coca-Cola, Polo, American Eagle, Sony

2006: Nike, American Eagle, Sony, The Gap, Old Navy

2007: Google, Apple, Target, Facebook

What else the kids care about:

On the web:

2005: CollegeHumor, Facebook, Google, MySpace, eBay

2006: MySpace, Facebook, CollegeHumor, YouTube, Google

2007: …here’s where it gets tricky. This year, more than ever, the differences across genders are really starting to show:

Women:

1. Facebook, 2. MySpace, 3. Google, 4. YouTube, 5. PerezHilton, 6. PostSecret, 7. Craigslist, 8. AddictingGames, 9. eBay, 10. SlickDeals

Men:

1. Facebook, 2. ESPN, 3. Google, 4. YouTube, 5. Digg, 6. CollegeHumor, 7. Yahoo, 8. MySpace, 9. Amazon, 10. Engadget / Fark (tie)

The gender breakdown gets even more interesting. Even though Facebook tops both charts, twice as many women rank it #1 than men, and MySpace is nowhere to be seen in men’s top 5. So the survey seems to assert that social networking skews much more female in the 18-24 set.

But here’s our thought: Take Digg. It allows people to see what content others in this whole big Internet universe are digging, exchanging information and opinions with the world at large rather than with a small social circle of actual friends and acquaintances, as is the case with traditional social networking sites. None of the Digg-type sites pop up on women’s web favorites list, but they do on men’s. (Fark and CollegeHumor are just other bystander ways of connecting to what tickles others.) Could such sites be a form of “hyper-social networking,” allowing users to connect with others beyond their immediate “society” in broader, less intimate ways?

So it may be, then, that social networking holds equal appeal to young men and young women. It just manifests itself in different ways as these two groups choose to relate to the world differently.

Something to think about.

CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT FICTION

Lately, we’ve been on an unintentional busting-the-print-is-dead-myth spree. On the whole death vs. evolution note, it’s not just the medium that’s evolving: its consumption also is. So what happens when you cross two dinosaur media — books and snail-mail — with a new-age phenomenon like peer-to-peer and social networking? You get Paperback Swap, a Netflix of sorts for books that’s completely free and a true testament to an old-fashioned code of honor.

paperback.gifHere’s how it works: you sign up (with a valid email and USPS address), sift through your old books to decide which ones you’re willing to swap, and post them on the website, adding to the over 1.6 million books already available. Just for doing that, you get 2 free book credits, so you can go ahead and request 2 books after browsing through the e-library. (Credits are the exchange unit on PBS — every time one of your books is received, you get a credit you can use to request someone else’s book.)

Then you just sit and watch your mailbox: the books, after they arrive, are yours to keep. Free.

The only thing you ever pay for is postage when other members request any of your books (about $2.13 a book using Media Mail). But, then again, they pay postage when you get theirs, so it’s all fair and simple. And, speaking of postage, PBS has neat shipping labels you can print out at home to make it all even easier. Or, you can go hardcore and join the Box-O-Books program where you can ship multiple books in one big box and swap with other boxers, saving on both postage costs and wait time.

And, for the musically inclined, there’s also sister-site SwapaCD, the self-explanatory similar program for CD’s.

Here’s the thing: if we remember our copyright classes from way back correctly, there’s something called the “first book doctrine,” a loophole in copyright law that allows you to transfer (for payment or not) a lawful copy of copyrighted work (like a book or CD) once you’ve obtained it. Basically, whenever you buy, find, receive as a gift or get your hands on a book in other ways, it’s yours to do whatever you like with. Including swapping.

Whoever thought the big break in peer-to-peer media exchange, always the hot-button issue in digital media, would come from the very media written off as dead?

FOOD & FIGHT

This week’s as-seen-in-Philly: spotted in the midst of Philly gem Reading Terminal Market (and in the midst of lunch rush hour) is a full-blown boxing match, complete with a loudspeaker-armed announcer, a DJ, various sponsors, and ABC Action News coverage.

Food & Fight

Food & Fight

We couldn’t quite figure out the purpose of the whole shebang, but it seemed like some sort of boxing match ticket sales stunt. More than anything, though, we couldn’t figure out why such a stunt would be pulled in the middle of the indiest of fooderies.

But, hey, perhaps there’s some truth after all to legendary Bulgarian wrestler Lyutvi Ahmedov’s even more legendary adage: “The grub makes the fight.”

We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.