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Brain Pickings

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Retro Blast

Saggy superheroes, dance lessons from James Brown, what chickens have to do with the roots of hip hop, how to fix all your marriage troubles, and why Springfield, MO is a nerd hotspot.

SUPERSENIORS

Let’s face it, we’re all headed for the nursing home. Superheroes included. And despite all those “aging gracefully” shenanigans, we don’t think there’s anything particularly super about old age.

Luckily, Italian cartoonist Donald Soffritti is there to put some funny in the grim prospect of it all.

In his line of senior superhero illustrations, he shows Iron Man’s discrediting golf habit, Wonderwoman’s so-not-Madonna arms, and what happens when Aquaman forgets the dentures at home, among other don’t-really-wanna-see-but-can’t-help-looking stuff.

Quick, before you choke on the potent combination of hilarity and gag reflex, rinse your eyes out with the reglorifying stuff of our Superhero Superdose issue.

>>> via Comunicadores

DANCE LIKE A LEGEND

Speaking of cultural legends, life… well, death, really… sure did a number on the one, the only James Brown. We hate seeing a living legend grow old — first arthritis steals the swagger, then before you know it, they stop being, well, living.

So when the Godfather of Soul went down at the Apollo last year, it was an acid rain on our holiday parade. Good thing YouTube was there to lift us out of our mourning by reviving Mr. Dynamite from those most dynamitous days, full of energy and ready to show Soulja Boy who’s who.

Watch the great James Brown teach you some dance moves you won’t see in your Hip Hop Abs fitness class.

Now that’s a blast from the past that puts the present to shame.

>>> via Very Short List

THE ROOTS OF THE ROOTS

But if hip hop really is your thing, you might as well learn a thing or two about the genre’s own heritage and origin — who knew it had to do with chickens. Straight from the source:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SJco1IBRrw

Courtesy of the folks at Nokia N-Series. (Remember when we said Nokia was the underdog to keep an eye on?)

FDA SAYS OMG WTF

Speaking of advertising and the past, we’re continually befuddled by the level of idiotic pseudo-PC stuff drowning today’s advertising. (A Snickers commercial pulled off the air for being too “homophobic” springs to mind.) One thing’s for sure: today’s regulatory bodies would have a field day with the ads of yore.

Thanks to Weirdomatic’s Old Creepy Ads collection, we can gawk at sedated elderly people (Senile agitation? Pop gramps some Thorazine.), sedated children (Forget Adderall, Nembutal is the name of the game.), self-butchering pigs, the long-lost cousin of the Geico cavemen, and — divorce lawyers behold — the solution to all marriage problems: a bit of Lysol you-know-where.

The irony: Some of these products, along with the delightfully absurd cheesiness they’re framed in, are all to reminiscent of, say, late-night informercials today. Hey, we’re already plotting bringing back the Beauty Micrometer as an As Seen on TV hit.

>>> via Very Short List

PAC MAN & CO

It’s not like the olden days don’t have their nostalgic appeal. Who doesn’t love nerdy retro games?

And if you happen to love them enough to go out of your way, consider a place that’s just there: Springfield, Missouri. That’s where you’ll find the 1984 Arcade, a wonderland of classic games from Asteroids to Zaxxon.

The arcade is particularly famed for its glorious pinball machines, already an endangered species in retroland. You can even book an event there — how’s that for an unforgettable all-you-can-play birthday party for your neo-nerd friend?

So put on your acid-wash high-waist jeans, unleash the big hair, and head over for some nostalgic revival of that era — as far as “best of the 80’s” type of stuff goes, VH1 has nothing on the 1984 Arcade.

BP

Sky Blue Sky

Staycation takes to the sky, NASA’s gift for your next dinner party, how legends spend the summer, and what 15,000 optical fibers have to do with high fashion.

CLOUDS, CAMERA, ACTION

Summer has come and gone, and Americans are already filling their scrapbooks with photos from their 2008 staycation — you know, the stay-put vacation alternative enforced by those notorious gas prices. And while some have tried to make lemonade with it all by re-discovering and re-appreciating their home states (one has to wonder what a two-week appreciation of, say, Wisconsin entails), others have gone the other way: thinking up fun, creative stuff that can be done just as well in Manhattan as it could in the Maldives.

Case in point: Flickrer hb19’s sky play photo set, using nothing but the sky and a simple object to create clever scenes that take us back to those magical childhood days when clouds were dragons and unicorns and exotic fishes.

Our favorites: the brilliant smoking pinkie, the timely Space Needle as the Olympic torch, the subtle brush stroke, and the Luke Skywalkerish finger light sabers.

Proof for our conviction that there’s little better than the combination of free time, a camera, and human imagination.

via Photojojo

NASA 1, MAGIC 0

Before you get too enchanted with the heavenly magic of the skies, let us be the kid who told you there was no Santa Claus: NASA has finally discovered what causes the wonder that is the aurora borealis.

A year and a half after the start of the THEMIS mission (that’s Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms… what, it’s the government, they’re no catchphrase pros), a fleet of five satellites probing Earth’s magnetic field, scientists have pinned down the reason why the Northern Lights dance their magic dance: magnetic reconnection, a sudden burst of substorms, brightenings and rapid movements that occur when stressed magnetic field lines suddenly “snap” to a different shape, much like snapping open an overstretched rubber band.

This phenomenon, it turns out, is common throughout the universe and in our particular case happens about a third of the way to the moon.

So think of us next time you share this at a dinner party to boost your smart-cool factor, will ya?

COUTURE FOR THE EYE

That fascination with the summer sky seems like something Flickr amateurs share with the photographic legends of our time.

This summer, legendary duo Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott shot legendary model Giselle Bündchen for W Magazine‘s “Kiss The Sky” editorial, styled by the legendary Alex White. (See? We mean business with all that legends stuff.)

Besides the oddly brave use of seemingly safe color, we’re mesmerized by the enchanted play with light.

Stuff of legends, indeed.

via Fashion Nation

GEEKS FOR FASHION UNITED

Keeping with the theme of clouds, fashion and scientific geekiness, there’s a different kind of cloud extracting oohs and ahhs from its observers: the smart kids at MIT have built the Fiber Optic Cloud, a mind-blowing sculpture made of 15,000 optical fibers, each individually addressable and responsive to human interaction through hundreds of sensors.

The 13-foot cloud, constructed of carbon glass, contains over 40 miles of fiber optics and expresses context awareness — which means that when admirers interact with it through touch, it reflects emotion and behavior through sound and lightness-darkness signaling.

The cloud lives in Florence and launched as an ongoing project to rethink the fashion trade show concept on an interactive, sensory level.

We just hope it’s not nearly as moody as the divas of haute couture.

BP

New York, New York

We’re back — with gifts from the Jersey mob, 33 reasons why birthdays are overrated, and music legends who can bend power-coated steel.

That’s right, we’re back — with a spankin’ new site domain. (Cue in glance at browser’s URL field.) And because right now we’re in the most un-New-York-like place in the world — Sofia, Bulgaria — we’re focusing on the random, smart, bizarre stuff that makes New York New York. Welcome to the New York, New York issue.

JERSEY MOB SAYS “THANKS”

Let’s face it, this is the age of extreme consumerism. We define ourselves by what we buy, eat, watch, and otherwise consume. And now, we can define ourselves by the stuff leftover from our consumption.

New York-based artist Justin Gignac is selling fresh-picked NYC garbage. That’s right, junk. He scours the streets of the world’s most conspicuous-consumption-driven city for leftovers — metro cards, plastic cups, cigarette buds, newspaper, receipts, gum wrappers, you name it — then carefully arranges them in small (non-leaky, non-smelly) plastic cubes, each unlike any other.

For homesick New Yorkers and randomness-seeking hipsters alike, the cubes are anything from a sentimental piece of home to an artsy-fartsy piece of self-expression. (For us, they’re just garbage-filled plastic boxes, but we dig the idea nonetheless.)

The cubes even come in special limited-edition varieties: you can reminisce with junk from the last opening day at Yankee Stadium, New Years’ Eve ’08 at Times Square, and the final day at Shea.

Here’s to trashy taste.

BETTER THAN A CHAMPAGNE TOAST

And if you just realized you take garbage for granted, just wait until we consider tap water. Sure, NYC’s may not be the finest, but it’s drinkable — which is more than what a huge chunk of the world can claim. That’s why New Yorker Scott Harrison founded Charity Water, a — you guessed it — charity aiming to bring clean drinking water to people in the developing world.

The nonprofit was Scott’s version of a midlife crisis — after trading in his glitzy life as an NYC nightclub and fashion promoter for a humanitarian gig in West Africa, he came to appreciate the far-reaching (and often underestimated by the priviliged) power of driniking water, from basic convenience to serious disease prevention.

This week, Scott turns 33, so he’s out on a month-long birthday campaign: he launched Boring September, an effort to build 333 drinking wells in 33 villages across Ethiopia.

The idea: Scott is asking everyone born in September to do away with birthday presents and ask their friends and family for $33 donations instead. The goal is to raise $1.5 million for the 333 wells, which will greatly improve 150,000 people’s health and quality of life.

The best part: a few do-good companies are supporting the campaign and matching donations, making our regular contributions twice as powerful. Which is good news, since 1,100 regular Virgos and Libras have joined the movement so far — each contirbutor gets an individual birthday page, where friends can donate in their name.

So if you’re a water-spoiled September baby, suck it up and ask your mom not to give you that inevitable sweater you’ll never wear anyway — poor people score drinking water, you score one less dent in your street cred courtesy of mom.

BYRNE THE COMPETITION

Ok, ok, so we can’t get enough of David Byrne these days. So sue us. But the Renaissance man just keeps churning out the good stuff.

His latest: design work for New York’s CityRacks Design Competition. Besides submitting 9 designs of his own — among them “The Coffee Cup” in Brooklyn, “The Hipster” in Williamsburg, shaped like an electric guitar, and “The MoMA” right outside the eponymous museum — he was also recruited to be on the jury. (Come on now, fairness is overrated.)

Byrne, a die-hard cyclist himself, got down with the powder-coated steel like a pro, but didn’t make it as a finalist in the competition. Granted, some of those top designs are mad cool — we love Andrew Lang and Harry Dobbs’ “I heart NY” and the Kubrick-like geometric sculptures by Stephan Jaklitsch Architects.

Sure beats the way we do it in Philly.

via PSFK

BP

Quick Brains-Up

A quick brains-up, because a heads-up is for the lesser people.

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Hear ye, hear ye.

Brain Pickings is taking a short break in preparation for some big and exciting changes. Ok, maybe not all that exciting — now that you’re picturing rainbows and unicorns and Chuck Norris, anything we do would be a let-down — but definitely big ones, and that alone is reason enough to get excited.

So stay tuned — the wheels are a-turnin’.

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BP

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