This year, celebrate Earth Day with a simple but tangible touch to your wired ways.
By Maria Popova
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 franÃ§ais, 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.
But, really, they’re all absolutely brilliant — so do indulge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The joy! It’s like a bunch of the goodies we’ve been digging lately — steampunk, repurposed stuff, quirky sculpture — have all been rolled into one big ball of coolness. It’s all thanks to artist Gordon Bennett and his delightfully unusual work.
Bennett Robot Works is all about robot sculptures made from objects old and new, found in junkyards, garages, dumpsters, construction sites, basements, sidewalk sales …you get the idea. Bennett uses wood, metal, glass, plastic, bakelite, rubber and paint to make the magic happen.
The Isaac-Asimovesque creations are an endearing allusion to visions of modernity from eras past. All the robots are completely unique, have personal names, and each takes over a month to complete. You know, just so you’re prepared for the sticker shock.
But, really, can you put a price tag on awesomeness? Plus, we always did like Rosie from The Jetsons.
KEEPIN’ IT REAL
What would happen if you mixed photography, anatomy, paper, sculpture, and a dash of creep? Bert Simons would.
The Dutch artist creates photorealistic 3D paper sculptures of human heads. And while we’d think twice about hanging one over our fireplace, the pure craftsmanship is beyond impressive.
He starts with a precise anatomy map of the head, then takes 6 photographs of his subject from different sides, which he projects onto the anatomical model. After some texture-mapping magic, he flattens out the photographic images into printable parts using special software and gets to modeling the head onto the anatomical model.
Here’s the thing about product design: the best of it is the convergence of visual indulgence and functional utility. Which is why we dig the latest work of nr21 DESIGN (the Japanese duo behind the adidas adilettes and more great stuff): the TONG City Bike.
It may look all fashion, but it’s all about function: the TONGis an inspired solution to China’s growing urban traffic problem. It provides a nimbler, more eco-sound alternative to the invasion of cars and scooters. At the same time, its unique BikeSafe TONG Lightframe keeps the rider visible at night — and packs an extra design punch: the light tubes are customizable to any color you desire. Then there’s the slick frame: it neatly houses the brake system, the gears, the shock absorbers and the drivetrain.
And while everyone and their mother wants to be the Apple of their category these days, we must say this one is as close as any non- Cupertino product can get.
There’s a new Facebook app making tsunami waves in the media and business worlds this week. Loladex is vaguely reminiscent of the ever-popular TripAdvisor Facebook app in terms of function, but its subject matter is entirely different.
It’s a local search engine that uses reviews and recommendations from people you actually know, lets you make favorites lists you can share with friends, and throws professional reviews in the mix for comparison.
And here’s why it’ll rock the social networking world:
First, we wrote a while ago that consumer reviews are actually the mother of all social networking, dating back to the early Amazon days. They’re a backbone of credibility based on a shared interest, even when they come from complete strangers. (Hands up: who hasn’t consulted the reviews before buying something on Amazon?)
Next, we think local search is the thing to watch in 2008 and will ultimately redefine the search marketing business model. It’s essentially search customization — and in this day and age of Subservient Chicken culture, customization has become the norm we expect. So combine that with the enormous credibility of recommendations coming from your real-life friends, throw in the social viralization factor of Facebook’s newsfeed feature, and you’ve got something truly revolutionary.
Loladex comes from two ex-AOL execs (including the executive director of AOL’s travel, local and search products) who invested $350,000 in the venture and have solid plans for expanding it onto other social networking platforms. The app will eventually become ad-supported and include additional third-party professional reviews from magazines and other media, but will remain local and empower users to choose whose recommendations to trust: a friend’s or a magazine editor’s.
Speaking of social networking, the continuing boom of it and the race to out-friend your friends have made us ponder one recurring question: Can you ever have too many friends?
Yes, according to the Dunbar Number. It’s a socio-anthropological theory that argues there’s a cognitive limit to the number of stable social relationships you can maintain. We’re talking about the kind of relationships wherein you know each person as well as that person’s relationship to every other person in the group.
The theory comes from primatology and how primates maintain social contact with each other through grooming. In Homo sapiens terms, Dunbar’s Number includes all the people in your life with whom you plan to maintain a stable long-term relationship — from your current friends and coworkers, to your high school buddies you’ve kept in touch with, all the way down to your best friend from childhood who still calls you every Thursday.
So what’s that number?
148. (But it’s usually rounded up to 150, for convenience.)
Which makes us seriously question all those people with 500 Facebook friends, not to mention the very concept of MySpace “friends” — we’re looking at you, Tila Tequila.
SOUNDTRACK TO GOODNESS
Update: remember the feel good initiative? They’re back with a serious site upgrade that can give Pandora, iTunes iMixes and Last.fm a run for their money. And they’re just getting started.
It’s still the same 1 song / 1 day brilliantly simple framework. But now it’s all about music as social currency. You simply upload one tune every day, building your “channel” — whenever you upload, you can write a short blurb on why you dig the song and add album artwork or an image you feel captures the track’s vibe.
Other users can then tune into your channel, or you can listen to other channels and tag tunes you like by clicking the little heart icon. And if your channel is particularly good, you’ll get a bunch of “followers” — people who subscribe to your daily songs, kinda like a Twitter following.
The homepage features “The River of Music” — a constant flow of newly uploaded songs from the site’s members, and you can tune in instantly by just hitting the Play button. Although the interface can use some design work, we dig the simplicity of the concept and think the platform has enormous potential to build a social hub around the great human passion that is music.