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Bicycle Built for 2,000

Why 2,088 people are singing Stanley Kubrick’s praises for $0.06 each.

Here’s a blast from the Brain Pickings past — remember Amazon’s Mechanical Turk? What about data artist extraordinaire Aaron Koblin? After his brilliant Sheep Market project, Koblin is back with another fantastic crowdsourced art effort.

Bicycle Built for 2,000 is an audio-visual collage of 2,088 voice recordings collected via Mechanical Turk. Each person is asked to listen to a tiny sound clip, then imitate what they heard, without any knowledge of the full context of the clip. The voices are stitched together to sing “Daisy Bell” — a symbolic choice, as this is the first example of musical speech synthesis in history. (It also happens to be the song HAL is singing at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

You can click on each note to view the waveform of its various iterations and hear how different people “sang” it.

Participants came from 71 different countries. Each singer was paid $0.06 — not quite the Broadway gig, but we find it utterly MoMA-worthy, so it more than pays in street cred.

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The MacGuffin Library

The secret lives of props, or what Hitler and Mickey Mouse have in common.

Cinema history trivia: MacGuffin is a term, allegedly coined by Hitchcock, which stands for a cinematic plot device, most likely on object, whose only purpose and value lie in driving the filmic narrative.

So how would such an object — whose very essence, form and function are defined solely within the context of fictional circumstances — inhabit and relate to the real world? This is exactly what non-traditional product designer Onkar Kular explores with his project The MacGuffin Library.

The objects that he creates are neither products, nor sculptures, nor props, but a strange medley of all three, challenging the way we perceive art and design. They stand somewhat awkward and unsure of themselves, reminiscent, in all their black polymer resin glory, of Frankenstein’s monster.

Each MacGuffin comes with a one-page synopsis of a non-existent screenplay that inspired it. There is a plot for every taste as themes range from futuristic thrillers to midlife crisis dramas.

The exhibition is incredibly engaging since the role of each object is not specified in the adjacent synopses. Endless possibilities of interpretations and lively discussions arise.

Unlike other, more traditional art exhibits, where one sees, nods, and moves on, the enjoyment of The MacGuffin Library lies exclusively in the quantity and quality of the viewer’s own engagement. So go ahead, engage.

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Monday Music Muse: The Botticellis

Why SoCal and Sweden are closer than you think, or how to take the speed lane to SXSW glory.

With harmonies that give Fleet Foxes a run for their money, vocals reminiscent of The Magnetic Fields, and cinematic beats that channel Scandinavian favorites like Sambassadeur, indie popsters The Botticellis took the speed lane to our (disappointingly short) best-of-SXSW-2009 list. 

Their sun-drenched sound and dreamy guitars come, unsurprisingly, from Southern California. And while a clear nostalgic connection with surf culture oozes from their music, deep lyrical sensibility and unique analog production make The Botticellis a delightfully unclassifiable force of their own.

Their debut album, Old Home Movies, is every bit as excellent as their eponymous SXSW track, which you can snag for free right here.

You can also spot The Botticellis (and a ton more free downloads) on Daytrotter, easily the best up-and-coming music site around, and one we’ve been enamored with for a long, long, long, long time.

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Sustainable Agriculture: Top 5 Innovation Efforts

What sheep have to do with high-rises and Obama first oversight.

We’re big on sustainability. The real, policy-changing, culture-redefining kind, not the I-Heart-Recycling graphic tee kind. Which is why we think agriculture, the literal lifeline to our vitality, is a tremendously potent tool for ensuring a sustainable future. Here are 5 innovative projects that propagate progress through smart, sustainable food initiatives.

HERDSHARE

The days of making small talk with the milkman may be long gone, but the relationship doesn’t have to be.

herdshareAustralian startup Herdshare is building a platform that enables farmers and their shareholders to form and manage their herd share arrangements, essentially cutting out the middleman and making the relationship delightfully personal.

For the un-initiated, a heardshare is coop of people who buy a small herd and pay a farmer to take care of their animals, milk them, and deliver the goods. Herdshare is founded on principles of fair pricing, food quality, landcare, better animal husbandry and, above all, simplicity.

The site itself is still being built, but we have high hopes for the project. In the meantime, you can read their brochure to find out more.

FOODZIE

Farmers markets have long been the scene of the grassroots eco-eating movement, especially with the recent emphasis on local over organic as the more sustainable consumer choice. (Ideally, of course, we take ours local AND organic.)

foodzieUnfortunately, not every city is as lucky as Philly, with its legendary Reading Terminal Market, North America’s first and largest indoor farmers market. Enter startup Foodzie — an online farmers market where small growers and artisan producers can get their foodstuffs to the hungry and socially conscious masses.

An Etsy for food, Foodzie features anything from bakery to herbs and spices to meat and seafood. You can find such delicious divinities as the hazelnut truffle cookie, the Vindaloo curry sauce or the hickory-smoked buffalo jerky strips. You can even shop by location, if you subscribe to Google’s 100-mile-radius philosophy.

sugarFoodzie also carries occasion-specific treats, like the curret selection of editorially-curated Easter products — so grab yourself a sheepie-shaped sugar cookie and tell your favorite local farmer about the site. It’s a grassroots movement, after all, so your individual word-of-mouth may have more power than you suspect.

via The New York Times

LOCAL HARVEST

You know we’re talking grassroots when there’s a hideously designed yet brilliantly conceived site in question.

Which is exactly what LocalHarvest is — an online tool for finding local, organic food across nearby CSA (community-supported agriculture) initiatives, farmers markets and family farms.

We’ve mentioned the project before, but it’s worth a revisit since it’s constantly adding new farmers markets as well as new site features — you can do anything from finding a CSA subscription to reading the blogs of the actual farmers whose food is on your table.

Food really doesn’t get more personal than that, and we love how LocalHarvest marries the old-timey relationship between the spinach-eater and his spinach-growing neighbor with the tools of today’s web-centric culture.

POLYFACE FARMS

We’ve sung the praises of Polyface Farms before — extensively — so we won’t over-elaborate. But we will say that when agricultural activist Michael Pollan puts his seal of approval on something, there’s good reason. (Which is a shame, since Obama recently shot down The Sustainable Dozen, Pollan’s recommendation for head of the Department of Agriculture — a big mistake by Obama, in our generally Obama-loving opinion.)

Polyface founder Joel Salatin has a vision far broader than the food itself:

We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.

What’s unique about Polyface Farms is the uniquely designed permaculture system that the six different animal species inhabit. They’re all engaged in a fascinating ecological dance, brilliantly orchestrated by the farm to maximize the symbiotic relationship the animals have with one another and with the land.

Polyface is a hopeful exemplar in sustainable agriculture, a model we hope will be replicated on a scale large enough to truly impact the entire industry’s business model and thus its cultural and ethical footprint.

VERTICAL FARMING PROJECT

We had the fortune of seeing TED 2009 live, where urban farming pioneer Dickson Despommier presented his brilliant Vertical Farm Project, an urban agriculture initiative that takes indoor farming to a new level — literally.

The project aims to increase our ecosystem’s food efficiency by using urban space — high-rises in particular — to start a new movement of city farming for today’s urbanites. Vertical Farming offers so many rationally indisputable benefits we have to wonder why it hasn’t been considered seriously until now — you get year-round crop production, maximize space (1 acre indoor is equivalent to 4-30 acres outdoors, depending on the crop), it’s weather-controlled, so no crop loss due to droughts, floods or pests (unless you count your roommate in the latter), and you can grow fully organically, without pesticides or herbicides.

These are just a few of the multitude of benefits — and now it’s over to the design side, with a number of architectural plans already proposed.

To find out more about the brilliant rationale of vertical farming, take a look at the library of concept presentations. And stay tuned for when the Despommier talk becomes available on TED — this is an idea worth spreading, if we ever saw one.

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