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Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Starting Monday, we’re trying something a little different — because we’re all for experimenting with the best ways to tickle your brain.

The idea: because each weekly theme features a bunch of different things across various categories, separating them out will make it easier for you to comment on specific pickings, link to individual articles and generally navigate better across category tags.

So we’re keeping the concept of the themed weekly issue, but we’re moving away from the “magazine” format where all sorts of different articles rub elbows with each other on the same “page” and share the same permalink. Now, each piece will get its own spotlight as a separate blog post with a separate permalink.

Erm, user-friendliness and all that shebang.

You can start getting friendly with it all on Monday, so stay tuned.

BP

Earth Day the Wired Way

This year, celebrate Earth Day with a simple but tangible touch to your wired ways.

We’re all for sustainable sustainability — the concept of making simple, everyday changes that enormously benefit the environment in the long run.

So, to celebrate Earth Day this year, we’ve created a neat little graphic to put in your email signature, show off your green bone, and remind people to think about the simple things that matter. We call it an eco-signature.

This Brain Pickings original is a digital freebie, and completely open-license and copyright-free. So snag away — download the image here, or just right-click/ctrl-click the image below and save it to your hard drive, then pop it in your email client’s signature preferences.

Got doubts about how much of a difference this little thing will make? Doubt not: The average employee prints 6 unnecessary pages per day, amassing a grand total of 1,410 per year. How many people did YOU email today?

Learn a couple more smart, handy tricks for easily relieving the daily tree-trashing epidemic.

BP

7 Ways To Free Yourself

Mad about folding, the new Radiohead, global ‘zines, the U.K. vs. France, why the next MoMA piece may be found in your closet, how to be even lazier than you already are, and what 1’s and 0’s have to do with art. Welcome to the 7 Ways To Free Yourself issue.

BEND IT LIKE JAFFEE

The one, the only: Mad Magazine. What greater icon of American humor, political satire and pop culture commentary? The cult pub has been making waves since 1952, but some of its most recognized cultural contributions remain Al Jaffee’s infamous fold-ins.

Now, thanks to The New York Times, they’re available in interactive form, from 1960 to the present. And if there ever was a question of whether history repeats itself, this makes the answer loud and clear: most of the fold-ins are just as relevant today as they were decades ago, liberating history from its own confines.

Take the 1968 election year, when Nixon and Humphrey threw it down like there was no tomorrow, in the midst of a highly politicized war. Forty years later, the atrocities of another war are “turning our stomachs,” and a new generation is just as conflicted about a new war in an equally politically charged climate.

The entertainment business doesn’t seem to have changed for the better, either. In the year of the $2.7 million 30-second Super Bowl commercial, Jaffee’s snark resonates all the more powerfully.

See the full collection for a hefty slurp of history’s irony cocktail.

SIBERIAN COOL

Say what you will of the music industry’s demise, but all this commotion has actually propelled the evolution and diversification of the “indie” music scene. No longer is it all garage bands and acoustic pop and stale teen angst.

Case in point: indie up-and-comer Ghost Away. Their unique brand of alternative sound blends brilliantly sombre vocals with electrically charged instrumentals, fusing in beats that will both hypnotize you and make you wanna move. The getup is part Radiohead, part Junior Boys, part Battles, part something else entirely.

GHOST AWAY – SLOWDRIFT

Siberia, their debut album, is out this week. And as if to claim their place in the music business revolution going on these days, they’re launching the album as a free download. Talk about the ultimate self-publishing empowerment of today’s new media freeconomy — it cost the band close to nothing to record, produce and distribute the album (except, of course, hours of sweat and blood in the studio), and now it’s costing you nothing to experience it.

Get it now and get ready to dance the toldja so dance when Ghost Away make that Rolling Stone cover.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Speaking of self-publishing empowerment, we love Scribd: the document-sharing online library that takes information exchange and collaboration to a whole new level. It’s simple: you can upload any docs you like — Microsoft Office stuff, PDF’s, PostScript, OpenOffice, and more — and make them available to the world.

Similarly, you can search and access millions of documents other people uploaded.

Besides offering free unlimited storage (seriously?!), Scribd is the ultimate tool for self-publishing and reaching a wide audience. People use it for anything from backing up office documents, to storing and sharing photo albums, to publishing e-books and indie ‘zines, to collaborating on music chords and more.

And just when you think they couldn’t possibly give you more, there’s Scribd iPaper — a platform that lets you quickly integrate files from Scribt into a website, and you don’t even have to know code. Think of it as embeds on steroids.

In our humble opinion, Scribt is just the tip of the collaborative future iceberg, where information becomes the new social currency and the digitization of data builds a tremendously powerful communal pool of knowledge.

So go ahead, free yourself from the confines of static and introverted desktop software.

ALONG FOR THE RIDE

After last week’s French fusion of documentary and raw indie music, the empire strikes back: we’ve got a British sequel.

The Black Cab Sessions, a Just So Films initiative, shares a similar point of view, namely that venues strip music of its essence. So the project employs a simple concept: for each “session,” an indie band or artist hops in the back of a black cab and plays a song filmed in a single shot, which is then uploaded — completely unedited — for the world to see.


Currently on chapter thirty-five, The Black Cab Sessions have sported some of the best of the The’s, and then some — The Ravonettes, The Kooks, The New Pornographers, Cold War Kids, Spoon, and much, much more.

Our only question: where does the cab actually go?

NO HANGUPS

What is art if not the talent of looking at the mundane and seeing the extraordinary? Sculptor David Mach has just this sort of rare gift. He takes everyday objects like coat hangers, matchsticks and Scrabble pieces, turning them into sculptures, collages and installations that speak artistically, socially and politically.

Mach as been crafting his exquisite matchstick head sculptures and signature wire coat-hanger statues since the early 80’s. But, like a true artist, he spends more time concepting and crafting than tinkering with his new website and uploading visuals. Luckily, you can see the full breadth of his work on the archived old website.

We also dig the passion with which he stands behind his creative vision: Mach speaks freely of the great projects that never happened, which you can find in his Proposals section.

A particularly regrettable non-realization: Sound Wave, a gigantic tidal wave sculptured out of 250 upright pianos, which he conceived for the 25th anniversary of London’s Albert Hall. We feel your pain, Dave, we feel your pain.

WORD MEETS IMAGE, THEY MATE

You may recall the super nifty PicLens from a couple of months ago. Now, we bring you the next big thing in image search: the Flickr Related Tag Browser. The ridiculously sleek app does just what the name implies: lets you search Flickr images by tag, but does it visually in a way that halves the process and doubles the joy of it.

When you do a search, you get a collage of images tagged with that word, but you also get a tag cloud of contextually relevant images. It’s like the app thinks one step ahead for you and generating your next related keyword. You can click each tag in the cloud to sample the resulting images with another collage that pops up in the center.

You can keep scrolling through image results right there in the center collage, or you blow up a specific image thumbnail for a closer look. From there, you can either keep browsing the thumbnails if the image is no good, or click straight through to its Flickrs page to snag it.

The app is the work of freelance interactive designer Felix Turner, a Flash whiz who helped build the now-ubiquitous Brightcove video players.

BINARY FREEDOM

This week’s Untrivia is a different take on data, inspired by a new branch of the “found objects” art genre. We like to call these new digital artists “binary sculptors” — because the found “objects” are sets and patterns of mined data that they use much in the way traditional sculptors use mined ore, transforming the raw material into compelling visual art.

One such remarkable binary sculptor is artist and real-time visual performer Paul Prudence, who uses a software called Daub to project the digital data of a video stream onto a “brush” moving in 3D space, creating a neo-surrealist morphing mesh.

And speaking of video streams and data, it seems like Prudence won’t be out of raw material anytime soon. In February alone, Americans viewed 10.1 billion online videos, up 66% from last year. The average time spent watching web video that month? 204 minutes.

That’s a whole lotta cats falling down toilets.

BP

B-Sides and Breakaways

Dancing in the streets, digital Dickens, time retold, LEGO on Times Square, 34841003122 reasons we’re devolving, what Etruscan vases have to do with skin rashes, and how to out-BlackBerry the BlackBerry.

SING IT LIKE IT IS

Independent music is an art all its own, but when you add phenomenal cinematography to it, it becomes a cultural masterpiece. And that’s what French filmmaker Vincent Moon is doing in La Blogotheque: “take-away” impromptu live shows by some of the most iconic indie artists, shot beautifully in some of the world’s most breathtaking cities.

No crowds. No stages. No equipment. Just the musicians and their talent, in the raw.

The project’s About page has nothing but Greek copy — we suspect because the films speak so strongly for themselves, no explanation is necessary. And if you parlez français, you can indulge in even richer content by way of articles, exclusive interviews and other artist- centric digressions. Still, the films themselves are the real indulgence.

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Some of our favorites: The Shins on a street corner in Paris, José González outside a torn-down house in Marfa, TX, and Dappled Cities on a San Francisco sidewalk.

But, really, they’re all absolutely brilliant — so do indulge.

UNMAPPED TERRITORY

Down with the old book smell. Penguin, in a brilliant bout of innovation, is fully embracing new media and social collaboration.

As part of the “We Tell Stories” mantra, Penguin is collaborating with 6 authors who tell 6 stories in 6 days, each inspired by a timeless classic.The first one, The 21 Steps (inspired by The 39 Steps), is told entirely on Google Maps, following the main character around the world.

In week 2, Slice (inspired by The Haunted Dolls’ House) was told via tweets. (That’s Twitter messages, for the media geezers.) Next we have the mad-libs-like custom Fairy Tales, a take on the classic genre where readers fill in parts of the story. This week, a married couple of authors live-blogs the story of a relationship: Your Place and Mine, inspired by Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin.

Weeks 5 and 6 are yet to happen, but we know the upcoming stories, authored by a DJ-ing media whiz and a Pakistan-born London-based Harvard Law grad, will be inspired by Dickens’ Hard Times and 1001 Nights.

So what’s it gonna be? A Facebook group? Flickr? A YouTube channel? Time shall tell.

NEXT TIME AROUND

Time-keepers. While their price tags can be exorbitant enough to push any budget, there’s an overwhelmingly underwhelming cross-industry sameness that hardly ever pushes the design envelope. Well, no more.

A finalist in the Signity Watch Design Competition 2008, the Orb bracelet watch is the work of young Serbian designer Djordje “Djo:Djo” Zivanovic. It displays time on the ends of three lines of different thickness representing time-size: hours, minutes and seconds.

Watch-averse? The Verbarius clock tells time like no other — literally. It tells it the way people do: with words. It comes pre-loaded with five languages (English, German, Spanish, French and Russian) and has a USB port, which you can use to upload additional languages from your computer.

Available June 15, but you can pre-order now for the ironically down-to-the-digits amount of $184.92.

HISTORICALLY ENLIGHTENED

What are the great classics for if not for great reinterpretations? British photographer Mike Stimson does just that: he takes on the classics…in LEGO.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Behind the Gare Saint Lazare”? He’s got it. Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “V.J. Day Times Square”? Done. And he doesn’t stop at classic photography. Hollywood’s fair game, too — Indiana Jones, Dart Vader, Stormtrooper. Even Rembrandt portraits.

And while we dig the sheer novelty of this concept, we must also admit Stimson’s mastery of lighting is a whole separate art form.

UNTRIVIA

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Plastic. What a love-hate relationship we have with it. And while the recent badmouthing of plastic bottles has done a bit to raise awareness, it hasn’t done nearly enough. How many bottles have been landfilled in the US so far this year?

34,841,003,122.

Only a fifth of those get recycled, down from a third in 1996. Progress? Not so much. Watching the real-time counter is even more chilling.

And while other materials are doing a bit better, recycling is still declining: 54% of aluminum cans get recycled, down from 59% in 1996. Glass is at 20%, down from 30% in ’96. Let’s hope the new (pseudo) green mass movement results in some face-saving numbers at the next data collection.

The point here? Get with it, son: go ahead and buy that Sigg already.

ITCHING FOR ART

Here’s to taking life’s lemons and making lemonade. Artist Ariana Page Russell has done that, and then some: she has a rare skin condition called dermatographia that causes red, raised lines to appear on skin whenever it’s lightly scratched. Basically, hyper-hypersensitivity with bells and whistles.

So Page Russell is using this unusual condition as a tool in her body-as-canvas art: she draws on her body and takes pictures of the patterns once her skin’s hypersensitivity embosses the artwork. Thirty minutes later, it’s all gone — the body has “[become] an index of passing time.” Her patterns are inspired by anything from Greek and Etruscan vases, to Medieval wall coverings, to Renaissance pottery, to contemporary clothing and wallpaper.

And although the rest of the artist’s body of work is also quite stunning, we can’t deny the sheer category-creating brilliance of her skin art.

SPEAK TO THE HAND

You’re curt. Brusque. Terse. Hell, you’re even rude. At least if you have a BlackBerry. At least that’s how people perceive your one- liner emails. And now there’s a fix.

Remember Jott? The nifty speech transcriber service now has a BlackBerry platform that lets you reply to emails with your voice. The download is seamlessly integrated with the email app you use on your BB. Best of all, it ups the ultimate BlackBerry ante: using your voice is 3-5 times more time-saving than thumbing your way through that Re:. And it’s still free.

So go ahead and be a better person.

BP

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