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Unexpected Sources

Rippers, sonic cartilage, aesthetic agendas, how to continent-hop without planet-trampling, why peanuts can help you in bed, and what artisan breads have to do with art. Welcome to the Unexpected Sources issue.

SOUNDTRACK TO THE TIMES

lastfm.pngWe hate to harp on about Last.fm. Ah, who are we kidding — we love to. Because it’s that great. And if for some unbeknownst reason you weren’t sold on the idea the first time (1.0 alert!), here’s a deal-maker: last week, Last.fm announced you can now play full-length tracks and albums on their website (or with the Last.fm player) for free, adding an extra kick of resolution to their ongoing “Social Music Revolution.”

Which is particularly awesome in light of The Last Ripper — a free-download app that saves Last.fm streams to mp3…and even downloads the album artwork. Unfortunately, the nifty app isn’t yet optimized for OS Leopart (which makes us grind our recently- upgraded teeth and grumpily curse one Mr. Jobs), but it must be a matter of time until they catch up.

Meanwhile, all these recent shifts in the music industry are a sign of a bigger trend that will likely forever change the music landscape. Decentralization of the industry is the obvious first step that’s already underway — just look at artist leaving major labels and releasing albums either on their own or with independent labels. Not to mention record labels started by companies whose main business has nothing to do with music. Heck, even MySpace has had its very own for over 2 years.

But beyond the obvious, there’s something much bigger going on.

OUT IS IN

So while on the subject of music revolutions, here’s a smaller but far more tangible (and audible) one. From family-run and world-distributed company Zelco comes a new kind of earphones that leave the bland iPod buds in the tech dust.

Outi earphones clip outside your ear, producing a totally immersive surround-sound music experience. And because they work via vibrations through the skin and cartilage, they don’t disturb people around you. At the same time, the different sound transmission doesn’t damage your hearing the way traditional in-ear pieces do. Plus, we dig them because you can still hear external sounds that enter your ear the regular way — which means we can bike in them but still be alerted by those lovely expletives drivers yell at us right before they door us.

Sure, they run a little steep: $110.00 plus shipping. But can you really put a price on your music experience?

FASHION CRYSTAL BALL

plus46.pngAnd speaking of mainstream-defying ventures, this month has really kicked it up on the fashion front. First we had the 10th annual SPIRIT OF FASHION — Berlin’s “other” Fashion Week that calls itself the “home of underground fashion.” The part-trade-show, part-new-talent- showcase is a unique scene-fair concept that draws audiences and buyers from all over Europe.

Then right now we’re witnessing Stockholm’s +46, possibly the biggest venue for up-and-coming designers. The unique platform bridges progressive fashion-makers with buyers, press, and other contacts, all cherry-picked through selective international standards. Which is why the shows manage to sport top-notch “freshion” (our word, mind you) designers like Original Penguin and Nikka New York. Too bad you’re missing it.

agenda.pngBut, hey, here’s a fair warning for something along the same lines happening stateside — AGENDA Trade Show, the fashion forum for up-and-coming streetwear designers, is coming up September 4-6 in San Diego. There, you can spot anything from garage-run labels to established elites (including favorites of ours like adidas, Ben Sherman, Converse, Le Tigre, PUMA, Reebok and more), all unified by a “higher level of design and aesthetic.”

If there ever was a weekend to really shape the cool kids’ wardrobe, this would be it. So indulge your inner trend-setter and check it out.

GREEN TO GO

And if you do decide to trek the world’s underground fashion shows, why not do it responsibly? Thanks to Sustainable Travel International, you can find out the exact environmental impact of your travel plans. In its 6th year, the non-profit is out to spread the sustainable tourism bug. And they’re making it a whole lot easier — you can explore their eco-directory of smart destinations, complete with hundreds of choices across every category, location and luxury level.

And here’s the coolest part — they recently partnered up with Continental Airlines and developed a precise carbon offset calculator for flights. You plug in your origin and destination, then it tells you just how many metric tons of carbon dioxide your journey is worth. But they don’t stop at bringing you down — you get four options for carbon offsetting projects you can donate to in the exact amount that would offset your flight’s impact, and you can do it all right there on the site.

Normally, we scoff at such umbrella-after-the-rain approaches that aim to compensate for rather than avoid altogether, but we can’t exactly bike across the Atlantic the way we do across town. So we’ll give these guys props for offering a solution. Plus, the 1.44 metric tons (TONS!) of CO2 our annual escapes to Europe produce kinda caught us frighteningly unawares.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifWe’ve heard our share of old wives’ health tales. Even our own grandmother used to say eating walnuts, which look like a brain, is actually good for your brain. We used to think perhaps the whole thing was some sort of riddle that helped your brain by means of exercising your gray matter.

Well, turns out Grandma was being completely literal — and right. Alternative health guru and public speaker Don Tolman has looked into some ancient health wisdoms in light of today’s scientific research.

In his Whole Food Signatures, he reveals a bunch of fruits, veggies and legumes with shapes analogous to the body parts whose function they boost. And although were tempted to take ours with a grain of salt, some extra research made us cut the NaCl from this data diet.

Take a carrot. Sliced, it looks like the pupil, iris and radiating lines of the human eye. We all know the orange sticks are so rich in beta-carotene they even lend their name to it. And — guess what — beta-carotene is essential for eye function: it’s converted to retinaldehyde (the formaldehyde form of vitamin A), whose name alone captures his oh-so-important role in retina health.

Or Grandma’s favorite, the walnut. It does look like the human brain, just as it does help it — walnuts are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (the unsaturated “good” kind of fat), which are essential for brain function and memory. You see, whether or not you sport a 6-pack, your brain is over 60% structural fat. Neurons and cell membranes are almost entirely made of fat. And they need to function properly in order for anything to go in and out. So next time someone calls you a fat head, say “Why, thank you, good sir!” and spit out an obscure factoid about the Chinese fire-bellied water toad.

Then there are peanuts and libido. We’ll refrain from the, um, back-end of this one.

But do check out Don’s entire list — although his research is a bit lacking, we enlisted our own biochemical knowledge and Google to confirm the stuff in more established sources. (Sorry, Wikipedia, no-go on this one.) To Grandma’s delight, it’s pretty much all based on real nutrition science and biochemistry.

STREET PICKINGS

Oh, can we count the ways we love Trader Joe’s. One of them has to do with the crew, who are so much smarter, funner and artsier than those elsewhere that we actually don’t feel right even referring to them as “cashiers.” This week, we have tangible proof — our local TJ’s is sporting the very first Trader Joe’s Art Show, turning one wall into a showcase of (actually really damn good) artwork by TJ staffers.

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We, always the get-the-storyists, of course chatted up one of the artist, mostly because we were a little taken aback by all the “NOT FOR SALE” signs and wanted to know what the deal was. The artist (who shall remain unnamed) shrugged and looked down, muttering something along the not-our-decision lines.

Turns out, it’s something the Philly crew had wanted to do for quite some time now and were finally given permission (permission?!) by the big guns, who had also said they’d be able to sell the artwork. Except in the last minute, they took away the dangled fruit. Which we thought was a bit of a let-down from a company as typically cool as Trader Joe’s — but we can’t even begin to compare it to just how let down the artists themselves must be feeling.

Still, it’s a brilliant idea and the art is better than what we’ve seen on many of our First Friday rounds, so go check it out if you’re in Philly this month.

BP

Geography, Topography, and Everythingography

Google vs. Hitler, underwear peninsulas, Hansel and Gretel, global black holes, 18th century German lovescapes, how Holland’s streets are finally becoming rivers, why Philly is reinventing the wheel, and what Joan Miró has to do with NASA. We’re exorcising our maps obsession.

MOUNTAIN VIEW TIMES

conspiracy.gifAlright, folks. It’s happening: Google has officially begun its world conquest. Starting with New York City.  Or so venture capitalist John Ellis of Real Clear Markets thinks as he speculates that it’s only a matter of time until Google buys The New York Times. And it makes a lot of sense — it’s no secret that NYT has been on a steady decline of value (down 70% over the past 5 years, actually) and, if the New England properties got sold off, it would only be worth under $3 billion. Which is lunch money for the big G. It’s also no secret that Google is going hard after the mobile market, readying to launch Google Mobile. The only trouble: Washington. And owning a major media outlet is bound to score them major points in the lobbying game.

We’ll leave it to the pros to elaborate on the details, but we’ll just say that if the Nazis were able to re-imagine New York in their own world domination schemes…

…why shouldn’t Google? At least this time there’s a do-no-evil take on it.

WORLDWIDE RUNWAY

Fashion: it’s a global thing. Dutch artist Coriette Schoenaerts seems to be feeling our little maps theme here with her fashion cartography: high-end clothing laid out to represent the geographic and political maps of various regions. Check out South America, The Netherlands, and Europe.

South America

The work was commissioned by Rails Magazine and aims to boycott the human body ideal traditionally used to sell fashion.

Meanwhile, global fashion is taking it to the streets: literally. Street Clash is an innovative contest that recruits bloggers and photographers to stage a virtual face-off between the street styles of cities from Paris to Perth.

Last year, 118 fashion “fights” ensued brackets- elimination-style, finally yielding the best-dressed city of 2007: Tel Aviv.

A retrospective of the catwalk catfight is taking place as we speak at Berlin Fashion Week.

NEW YORK CITY FAIRY TALE

It started without a name. Kind of: some poking around the East Village and the blogasphere would reveal it had a codename: “Birdbath.” Which sounds more creepy than crepe — not a surprising approach given the operation is the doing of legendary New York chef and prankster Maury Rubin. What is it?

Today, the revolutionary neighborhood “green” bakery has fully embraced its codename and, after Rubin’s City Bakery success, Birdbath is taking the love of sugar and dough to new levels. It features Rubin’s famed gigantic cookies. But this one is as green as it gets, using top-notch organic ingredients in both the food itself and the shop’s marvelous architecture, making for a bakery Hansel and Gretel would love. We’re pretty sure you can even eat the whole place, including — and we mean this in the least cannibalistic way possible — the staff: Birdbath‘s walls are made of wheat and sunflower seeds, covered with milk-based beets-pigmented paint, the floor comes from a cork by-product, the counter from bamboo, and the baristas’ vests from linen and hemp. Yum.

Rubin’s idea is to inspire people to make the connection between organic foods (which, by the way, more than half of Americans buy regularly these days, spending over $14 billion annually) and a broader appreciation of organic, sustainable materials.

No green bakery in your ‘hood? No problem. Now you can get delish, do-good foods wherever you are. (Plus, we’re big proponents of locally grown over organic.) And the fine folks at LocalHarvest, the online community for farmers and foodies alike, are making it super easy with their nifty map-based search feature.

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Go ahead, trade a Whole Foods trip or two for a farmers market one — it’s an experience of its very own.

UNDERDOG AND FRIENDS

You may remember the heads-up from a while ago to keep an eye out for Nokia because the progressive underdog is creeping up on everyone from Apple to Google to MySpace. Well, turns out we were on to something.

Nokia + FacebookThe guys at Paid Content report Nokia is now foraging big-time into the world of social networking via a hush-hush pact with Facebook. Seems like the idea is to make Facebook the default social net of Nokia headsets (much like YouTube is for iPhone video) in exchange for a Nokia stake in the Zuckerberg empire. Not a bad idea for a mobile company in the business of “Connecting People.”

If you’re getting the so-what shrugs, consider the deal in light of Nokia’s aforementioned recent acquisitions — especially the Universal-catalog- backed music store, the Ticket Rush concert ticketing partnership with Live Nation and the Enpocket mobile advertising platform. (Plus the steady 58% stock increase over the past year.) And while social networking as a way to relate to friends is great and all, these powerful tools have the potential to make it much bigger — it can be a way, a monetizable way, for people not just to list their interests and connect with friends, but to act on those interests and relate to products they’re passionate about.

This underdog is barking loud and clear.

Meanwhile, and because this is the maps issue, we feel compelled to point out where the Nokia/Facebook partnership just won’t happen: in the international “black holes” of the Internet.

That’s right, these 15 countries are all Big-Brother-on-steroids about their citizens’ access to and use of the Internet. Doesn’t it just make you rejoice in democracy and the ability to Facebook away any time of day?

DATING JUNGLE

It’s a crazy world out there on the singles scene. You’ve got blind dates, pity dates, online dating, speed dating…it all makes us wanna say “Oy!” (But we won’t. Because we’re not 60 or Canadian.) Well, you can now multitask your way around that jungle with a new hybrid: online speed dating.

WooMe, the online speed introduction platform cooked up by the folks behind PayPal, has finally launched in alpha.

It takes 30 seconds to register, then you’re on your way to all the 5-minute video chat sessions your heart desires. After each, you’re asked (thankfully, not by the datee) whether or not the person wooed you.

If the answer is yes, you chip in $1 to get each other’s real contact info. Which seems to us like a much better deal than the traditional dinner-movie-drinks scenarios that often have thanks-but-no-thanks endings. (Plus, it makes it so much easier to “go to the restroom” if things start going awry.)

And if things do go right, perhaps you’ll get to move your personal pin on this 1777 German map of the Empire of Love.

If you don’t sprechen Sie Deutch, here’s the gist:

  • GEBIET DER JUGEND = Land of Youth (Forest of Love, Kiss Field, Flirting Game, Charm Castle, Stream of Wishes, Worry-Free, Joy’s Home, Beautiful House, Source of Joy, Sweet Look, Wisecrack Place, Rich River, Warning Castle)
  • GEBIET DER RUHE = Land of Rest (Nightcap, Grandfather City, Equanimity, Manly Place)
  • GEBIET DER TRAURENDEN LIEBE = Land of Mourning Love (Anger’s Home, Flood of Tears, Whim Mountain,  Complaint Place, Hopeless Mountains, Loathing, Strict Place, Swamp of Profanity,  Desert of Melancholy)
  • GEBIET DER LUSTE = Land of Lust (Illness Valley, Weak Home, Intoxication Field, Lechery, Hospital)
  • GEBIET DER GLUCKLICHEN LIEBE = Land of Happy Love (Lust Wood, Answered Prayers, Pleasant View, Enjoyment, Tenderness, Good Times, Affection Farm, Satisfaction, Compliance Mountain, Fountain of Joy, Marriage Harbor, Reward City, Peace of Mind, Bliss Town)
  • GEBIET DER HAGESTOLZE = Bachelor Country (Stupidity Town, Rejection Place, Irritation, Indifference, Place of Contempt, Reprehensibility, Old Age Mountains, Separation, Hat, Obstinacy, Wrangler Hall, Exasperation Heath, Hamlet of Death, Sea of Doubt)
  • GEBIET DER FIXEN IDEEN = Land of Obsessions (Place of Sighs, Desire Town, Unrest, City of Dreams, Bridge of Hope, Disloyalty, Sweet River of Tears, Little Town of Instincts)
STREET BLUES

And while we’re dealing with all sorts of cartographic representations of stuff, let us pay tribute to a brave effort to change the stuff in order to change the reprsentation. Dutch artist Henk Hoftstra‘s latest outdoor art project takes Google Earth head-on with 4000 liters of blue paint poured onto the streets of Drachten, Holland. The goal: an “urban river” visible from Google Earth, with the words “WATER IS LIFE” stretched across it.

urbanriver.jpg

Although the installation hasn’t shown up on Google Earth yet, the current Drachten view seems to have been snapped earlier in 2007, so it’s a matter of waiting for the satellites to come ’round — because we know Google stuff always does.

REINVENTING THE WHEEL

bikeshare.pngAnd while checking out other people’s streets is cool, why don’t we selfishly turn focus inwards and talk about the streets of Philadelphia for a second. Namely, about the amazingly bikeable streets of Philadelphia. Which is why an ambitious new collective, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, is trying to break Philly’s car habit and take urban sustainability to new heights.

Enter Philly Bike Share — a public use bicycle program that aims to do for Philly what similar efforts have already done for many European cities: provide low-cost alternative transportation, reduce traffic congestion and increase the overall livability of the city. Which jives rather nicely with a few of our big urban gripes: people who live 15 minutes from work but choose to drive, foot-wide cobblestone Old City alleys clogged with SUV’s, and $20 cab rides. Hey, it may even help with our standing on the 25 Fattest Cities in America ranking.

But, in all seriousness, it’s a great idea — not only do we have the largest connected park trail system in the country, but we also have a highly sophisticated urban biking system (download the map here) with over 150 miles of bike lanes, a ton more off-road routes, 1,800 street-side parking racks and even buses equipped with bike racks.

philly-bike-lanes.png

Turns out, if we only replaced 5% of Philly’s short-distance car trips (under 5 miles) with bikes, we’d be reducing our carbon footprint by 98 tons of emissions per year. Clearly, we could say that’s a ton — but it would be an obvious understatement. So even if you’re not quite ready to commit for some reason (or if you already have a two-wheeler of your very own), you can help simply by dropping Mayor Nutter this quick email asking him to authorize and fund the program.

Besides, there’s the Dasani Blue Bike program in Pittsburgh — and if Pittsburgh can do something, what exactly are we waiting for?

BRIGHT SIDE OF THE MOON

We’ll sign off with one of our absolute favorite maps — which looks more like Joan Miró on psychedelic drugs than a real map. (Nice find, Wired.) Except it is an honest-to-NASA map of the dark side of the moon, with the different colors corresponding to geological materials and phenomena.

It’s part of a series done under the Astrological Research Program, a 1971-1998 partnership between NASA and the United States Geological Survey. And we think it’s geeky-artsy-cool — our kinda stuff.

Way to go downhill, NASA.

(Finally, special thanks to our new favorite blog, Strange Maps, for further inspiring and fueling our pre-existing map obsession.)

BP

Culture-Crossing Subcultures

$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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbdsO7gMAE4

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.

filmaid3.png

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.

3191.jpg

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.

BP

Feeling Thoughts, Playing Visions

Public display of emotion, world-saving vocabulary, the new jet set, David Lynch, the animal in us, what Mike Gravel and Moby have in common, why parting with our miniature sheep collection finally seems doable, and how everything begins with music.

HEART OF A CITY

The Nordic countries, always the beacon of design and innovation, are bringing yet another refreshing new project to the cultural table. Emotional Cities is the work of Swedish artist Erik Krikortz and is a multilayer, concrete, visual reflection of the world’s emotional pulse as it changes in real time.

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The concept is both simple and elaborate. First, there’s the website where you pick your current emotional state on a seven-level scale by clicking the visual representation of your mood. Then there’s the elaborate part that turns it into a public art installation of an emotional snapshot.

mood.pngThe project aspires to calculate and plot the average values for cities, countries and the world in real time. You can also create custom groups by using the Emotional Cities Facebook app and mood-track your workplace, your posse or your roommate. The idea is to make us more aware of our own emotions and those of others, and hopefully to help us understand them better — after you’re asked the “how?” question about your emotional state, you can also choose to answer the “why?” in a private diary on the website, encouraging you to deal with emotion in a healthy, intelligent way.

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Here’s the elaborate part: in some cities, the city’s current emotional state is projected onto a light installation in a public space. So if you were flying into Stockholm, you’d be able to instantly get a feel for the city’s cumulative emotional state at that time.

And to say the concept has gigantic social potential would be an understatement. Emotional transference or mimicry is a tremendously powerful, primal force that we humans are neurologically wired for. For details on the back-end, read up on mirror neurons and indulge in Daniel Goleman’s brilliant book “Emotional Intelligence.” But, meanwhile, let’s just say that the Emotional Cities project has the potential to virally infect real people and entire cities with positive emotion, improving everything from the stress level of the daily grind to our overall standard of living.

How are you today?

SYMBIOTIC BETTERMENT

Ask Chaucer, and he would’ve probably told you literature can save the world. And you would’ve probably laughed. Possibly pointed. Well, put that finger down because FreeRice, a smart new sister site to aspirational poverty-assassin Poverty.com, is feeding the hungry while enhancing your vocabulary.freerice1.png

Here’s how it works: you play a web game that tests your knowledge of fancy words (remember those SAT questionnaires?) and for every word you get right, FreeRice donates 20 grains of rice through the United Nations World Food Program to help end world hunger.

And that’s not all. These are serious folks — the “game” is built by professional lexicographers to ensure maximum benefits for your vocabulary. So you’re helping the world while helping yourself sound smarter, formulate ideas better, make greater impact with your speech, score better on tests, nail job interviews…you get the idea.

To kick up the challenge, you can set your computer to remember your vocabulary level as you play, so the game pushes you to make actual progress. There are 50 levels total, but getting above 48 is Shakespearean.

We dig the idea — it sounds like symbiotic quality-of-life improvement: for the world’s poor, relieving hunger clearly improves their lives; and in the world of capitalism, improving vocabulary, which is integral to your image and therefore a “self-marketing” currency, will ultimately improve your life.

freerice2.png

The site is entirely ad-supported, which allowed the project to double its impact — it actually started out with a 10-grains-per-word contribution, but it got a tremendous response. And because more traffic means more advertising revenue for the program, they were able to double the donation in November. Still, it may seem like tiny chip at the world poverty problem — eliminating which, along with all its related diseases, the UN estimates will cost $195 billion a year.

So scurry off to FreeRice and make yourself a better person in more ways than one. Heck, let’s go crazy — bookmark it and spend a minute on it every day. It may save a life.

Word.

BIG BIRDS, BIG EGOS

dopplr.pngWhat happens when you combine business networking, social networking, travel, and real-life fun get-togethers? Dopplr happens, a brand new service for the city-hopping business elite. It lets frequent biz travelers share plans with their friends and colleagues so that if they happen to be in the same city as a buddy at any given time, they can swap the boring staring-at-my-hotel-wall evening for a night on the town in good company. Trade in the pay-per-view for, you know, actual humans.

Seems like we’re running a Nordic theme here — Finland-based Dopplr (the country seems to be on an innovation spree lately) is the brainchild of several business geniuses, media executives and designers with extensive upmarket experience — the same crowd that embodies the site’s average user.

But with the success, smarts and talent of this set also comes some networking snobbery — right now, Dopplr is invite-only (just like uber-exclusive luxury social net darling aSmallWorld.net.) The folks behind it say the main reason is that they’re focusing on the business clientele and want to maintain maximum security, but they also admit they like to maintain an air of exclusivity. Yep, someone’s gotta cradle all those big egos. Plus, replicating people’s real-life relationships to lend the service some word-of-mouth credibility wouldn’t exactly hurt.

Do check it out — it may sound like a niche project, but we think it’s a sign of a powerful trend that’s starting to emerge. These same new-age business execs may well be the hot new commodity, a lucrative demo driving both culture and economy forward. Watch out.

NO ELABORATION NEEDED

Why we love David Lynch and simple parody.

Download it and watch it on your iPhone here.

UNTRIVIA

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Okay, let’s do nerd-talk for a second: Goal-Gradient Hypothesis. (Man up, you can take it.) It’s the behaviorist idea that animals expend more effort when there’s an imminent reward. And because we’re all just animals (no, not like that, you dirtball), our behavior is shaped by the same patterns.

Case in point: an interesting study by a bunch of Columbia and Fordham researchers substantiated the “duh” knowledge we already have by backing it up with numbers. They looked at exactly how and by how much the prospect of a reward changes everyday human behavior. And they found that when folks joined the reward program at their local coffee shop (you know, the buy-10-get-1-free kinda thing), their interpurchase times dropped by 20%. That’s a lot. The pattern was also projected onto online behaviors, like rating a certain number of songs on a music-rating site to redeem an Amazon gift certificate. The idea is that once people have a tangible reward at the end of a task, they accelerate towards that goal beyond how they would normally complete the task. Yeah, we know, “D’oh!”

But even more interestingly, they also found that people who joined the reward program were also…

  • 19% more likely to chat with cafe employees
  • 12% more likely to say smile
  • 8% more likely to say “thank you”
  • 18% more likely to leave a tip.

So besides being numbers-based evidence for the obvious loyalty and incentive programs many companies already use, we think there’s a bigger human truth behind it — we all appreciate feeling appreciated. We want tangible proof that we matter — whether it’s to a cafe or to our bosses or to our friends — and it all becomes a loop of reciprocity.

The point here is, tangible appreciation does’t just make better customers: it makes better people. So go ahead and send that old-school thank-you note to your great aunt, even though you were so not feeling that reindeer sweater. You’ll feel better, as will she. And, who knows, maybe she’ll get you a Modbook next year.

THINKTUBE

And while we’re being brainy, the big news on that front this week is BigThink — a brand new online video network that aims to empower the “citizen-consumer” by providing access to the brains of today’s greatest thinkers and a venue for those absorbing the ideas to respond.

The army of experts spans an enormous range, from faith to science to politics to art, and everything in between. And the idea people are as diverse as former Viacom CEO Tom Freston, presidential candidate Mike Gravel, Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne, University of Pennysilvania President and political theorist Amy Guttman, iconic entrepreneur Richard Branson, and time-changing artist Moby. Plus a ton more.

Currently, the site is in private beta. But the idea is that once people immerse themselves in the world of ideas, they’d be inspired to respond and contribute, uploading their own videos. Right now, BigThink is simply an amazing and rare library of ideas, professionally organized and neatly gathered in one place. Which is great. But whether or not the project truly succeeds (and we sincerely hope it does) depends entirely on the willingness of that same “citizen-consumer” to shift from the passive lean-back comfort that current web video has become and lean forward into the active world of thought.

Time to quit watching other people’s cats do funny things and maybe think about the nature of humor.

CLUTTERBOARD

Lately, it seems like stop motion has been having a field day with award shows, YouTube popularity and the sorta-indie-but-skewing-mainstream set. And, sure, the most recognized representatives of the genre are often the most elaborate, big-budget productions backed by a corporate merchant of cool. (Hey there, Sony and Guinness.)

But it’s neat to see a fresh stop-motion spot from an unexpected, even traditionally “boring” category. Let’s face it, it’s a little easier to get excited and inspired by plasma TV’s and beer than it is by, say, storage. Which is why we dig “Tide.”

https://youtube.com/watch?v=6QfvSGZIDuM

Out of London-based agency CHI & Partners, by director Dougal Wilson, this Bronze-Lion-winning spot is visually indulgent, yet short and to-the-point: it really makes us think about the pack-rattish clutter in our own lives that we’re drowning in — heck, nothing’s come this close before to making us feel like it’s time to stash our miniature sheep collection away.

MEDIUM/MESSAGE

frame_davis.jpgThere’s no question that music has ignited some of the greatest fires in civilization’s belly. Still, it’s rare that the artistic vision music inspires uses both music’s medium and its content to craft new kinds of art. But that’s exactly what SoCal mixed media artist Daniel Edlen has done in vinyl art, using white acrylic and vinyl records to create portraits of the artists right on the physical canvas of their music.

Although the artist says his “payoff is people’s reaction when they see the pieces for the first time,” you can help support his work and vision with a more tangible payoff by buying one of the few yet-unsold pieces, framed in a clean black metal LP frame with the original album sleeve as background.

BP

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