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Didn’t See It Coming

Antidextrous art, the perfect drink, flipping off physics, why you should always (ALWAYS!) listen to us, who (kinda) rocked out 2007, what new disaster you should be worrying about, all that manlove, and absolutely nothing to do with Thanksgiving, turkeys or the word “gobble.” Welcome to the Didn’t See It Coming issue.

POWER TO THE ANTIDEXTROUS

Okay, if you happen to be one of those ambidextrous wunderkinds, please place either of your freaky genius hands on the mouse and scroll down to the next section: you’re not welcome in this one. Because this section is all about the art of loving your awkward non-dominant hand.

At least that’s what Justin and Drew, the guys behind Left Handed Toons (by right-handed people), believe.

And we think it’s antidextrous genius. So far, they’ve got 124 delightfully awkward toons to show for it, new ones coming regularly, and a just-opened merch store. Which actually brings some unexpected freshness into the sea of seen-it-many-times, been-done-before graphic tee sameness.

Justin and Drew: you just got yourselves the Brain Pickings (left) thumb-up.

IN GOOD SPIRITS

‘Tis the season of indulgence and little do we like more than indulging our vices. Yep, people seem to invest extra effort and money in pampering their questionable inclinations, from the eco-geeks, to the booze snobs, to the kinky…okay, we don’t go there. And while there’s a whole multimillion-dollar industry addressing the “won’t go there” needs, there’s now something addressing the demands of the snobbiest, pickiest, most demanding liquor connoisseurs.

MONDOliquor is a new website that curates exotic, local, hard-to-find and specialty indie liquors and wines for those who expect nothing less of their booze.

So in the spirit of the season, what better way to wash down all that pumpkin pie than with a shot of Pumpkin Pie Vodka? Just keep the shots coming and you’ve washed away all the gorging guilt, too. Seems to us like a solid plan.

DOWN WITH GRAVITY

Never ones to believe in applied physics (ask Ms. Chakarova, our sternly-lipped high school physics teacher), we’ve had dreams of flying since before we could walk. Granted, gravity isn’t exactly cooperating. But that’s not stopping visionary photographer Jan von Holleben from making the camera an imaginative haven for those dreams.

His photoseries Dreams of Flying portrays the most precious part of childhood: the ability to make dreams come true through boundless imaginative freedom.

Shooting children (you know, with a camera) seems to come naturally to von Holleben, which may have something to do with his own parents: a cinematographer and a child therapist. Dreams of Flying, inspired by classic children’s books and contemporary superheroes, was shot over four years with children from von Holleben’s hometown neighborhood in Southwest Germany.

THE TOLDJA SO DANCE

You may recall from past Brain Pickings eras a certain service by the name of Jott that lets you send notes to yourself while on the go using your cell phone. Quick recap for our new readers: Jott lets you dictate all those note-to-self moments into a cell phone, then have it transcribed and delivered to you via email or text message. And it’s all completely free.

Well, proof that we spot big things early: this week, Jott signed a deal with Amazon under which Jott users can fill their Amazon wish lists or shopping carts just by speaking into their phones. So imagine you’re on the train, reading a magazine, and spot a pair of rainboots you love. Or at a fried’s barbecue ogling those awesome crisp-sound-blasting outdoor iPod speakers. If you’re a Jotter, here’s what you do:

You: dial 1-866-JOTT-123

Jott: “Who do you want to Jott?”

You: “Amazon.”

Jott: “Amazon, is that correct?”

You: “Yes.”

Jott: “Say the name of the item. Beep!”

You: “Bushnell Travel Tunes outdoor speakers for iPod.”

Jott will proceed to send you an email with the top 5 results for your from Amazon, plus pricing info and customer reviews. (PS. Sorry, Jott — you may get A+ for functionality, but we can’t give you more than a B for grammar.)

Not bad, not bad at all. Meanwhile, the marketing industry was freaking out on and off stage at the CTIA Conference this year because mobile ads are that kid whom everyone expected to be valedictorian, prom king, and class president, but who ended up flunking out. So here’s a thought: perhaps independent software developers like the folks at Jott will be the ones to really kick-start mobile marketing: as an organic extension of the service itself, one that reflects actual user needs rather than a force-feeding mechanism for privacy-invading sales pitches. Just sayin’.

WHO’S TO SAY

Seems a bit early, but this year’s best-of lists are already rolling out. Like this Hottest Products of 2007 show-down by AOL Money & Finance. We did, however, have to ask ourselves how come AOL, always the dinosaur struggling to shake off their own unhot image, should be the judge of current hotness. But, hey, to give them some credit: we discovered this one by doing something we’d never-ever-ever done before: clicking on an online banner. Granted, this one was nicely animated and had clever copy, but the act in and of itself made us feel like we’ve brought shame upon our family. Aw well. Onwards:aol.jpg

1. iPhone. This year’s most anticipated product launch kicked off a sales bonanza that left even Apple’s own projections in the dust.

2. Coke Zero. Despite the extravagant 2005 launch, Coke’s biggest one in two decades, sales proved the product to be “special” — not in the good way. This year, it got an image revamp and managed to jack up Coke’s to a seven-year high.

3. Nintendo Wii. Okay, so maybe this too didn’t exactly launch this year. But it was this year that it hit the stunning 13 million sales mark.

4. Slingbox. Straight from your home, compressed live TV, satellite, DVR and all, sent to a computer anywhere in the world. Not bad.

5. VitaminWater. Coca-Cola snagged it this year for $4.2 billion. And Fitty made $100 million from his stake in Glaceau. Phew.

6. Tesla Roadster. This fully electric beast goes 0-60 in under 4. Or at least the prototype does — the 2007 launch has been slacked off to 2008, but even so the Tesla is fully sold out.

7. Google Maps. Mainly, the much-buzzed-about Street View function introduced in may, which allows you to take virtual 360-degree tours of cities.

8. Halo 3. We think something that broke the record for highest-grossing opening day sales ($170 million) in entertainment history should rank higher than a drink. But whatever.

9. Hannah Montana. Um, like, duh. This Disney cash cow has been milked for TV shows, merch toys, a clothing line, sold-out concerts, and an upcoming movie.

10. Boeing 787 Dreamweaver. Up goes fuel efficiency, on come 210-330 passengers, and 750 of these babies have already been back-ordered.

Okay, we’re not transcribers here. We wasted enough time composing the lovely visual for you — just click the damn link for the rest. (Or don’t. We think, with the exception of 14, they kinda suck anyway. Just kidding. Sort of.)

UNTRIVIA

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Here’s the thing about the Internet: it’s a little bit like childbirth. We do know that it’s big and important and keeps the world running, but we’re afraid that finding out the back-end details would be so gut-wrenchingly devastating we’d wish we never had. And while we’re not in the business of illuminating the (gory, mucousy, flesh-ripping) miracle of childbirth for you here, we don’t at all mind giving you a gory Internet reality-check.

Turns out, what with all the consumer-generated content binge, the world has a new cyber-natural disaster pending. In expert circles, it goes by Exaflood: the massive flood of video and other broadband traffic pouring onto and from the web every day. The name comes from the the data quantifier exabyte (EB), humongous numbers of which the world has started consuming: 161 million so far this year alone.

Just one exabyte has so much data that, if converted to DVD’s, it would take over 50,000 years to watch. Which means watching Chocolate Rain and all the rest of this year’s content would take about 8.5 million years. And, at that pace, 20 US households in 2010 will use more Internet capacity than the whole world did in 1995, with up to 80% of it coming just from online video streaming.

Here’s a numbers-and-figures snapshot of just the kind of information flood we’re dealing with at exabyte level:

Quantities of bytes
SI prefixes (decimal) IEC prefixes (binary)
Legacy use (often with KB for kB)
Value Name Value Name
10001 = 103 kilobyte (kB) 10241 = 210 = 1.024·103 kibibyte (KiB)
10002 = 106 megabyte (MB) 10242 = 220 ≈ 1.049·106 mebibyte (MiB)
10003 = 109 gigabyte (GB) 10243 = 230 ≈ 1.074·109 gibibyte (GiB)
10004 = 1012 terabyte (TB) 10244 = 240 ≈ 1.100·1012 tebibyte (TiB)
10005 = 1015 petabyte (PB) 10245 = 250 ≈ 1.126·1015 pebibyte (PiB)
10006 = 1018 exabyte (EB) 10246 = 260 ≈ 1.153·1018 exbibyte (EiB)
10007 = 1021 zettabyte (ZB) 10247 = 270 ≈ 1.181·1021 zebibyte (ZiB)
10008 = 1024 yottabyte (YB) 10248 = 280 ≈ 1.209·1024 yobibyte (YiB)

No word on how much of that traffic comes from “adult” video. And, just like with childbirth, we think we’re better off.

MANLOVE INCUBATOR

incubator.pngFor the second consecutive year, mtvU (you know, the ugly bastard child in Viacom’s otherwise decent property line-up, spinning 24-hour college programming that hardly anyone watches) teamed up with Cisco Systems for the annual Digital Incubator competition: a search for the five most innovative online ventures by students. The award grants are up to $30,000 and this year there was an extra kicker: the five grand recipients got a chance to pitch a detailed business plan to MTV and Cisco executives for another grant of up to $100,000.

And one team actually won it: RapHappy, a freestyle battle site that lets anyone and everyone break it down. You’ll find anything from actual battles to R. Kelliesque (but much less creepy, we promise) epics. But dig it just because it’s so damn tongue-in-cheek you can’t help ROLF-ing over some of those jewels.

raphappy2.pngLike our favorite: this rappy ode to manlove boldly broadcasting rapper Gnomebody’s tender manly feelings for his BFF Zach (a.k.a. Zakku). And if there wasn’t a picture, we could’ve sworn it was auteured by a certain manly love duo we know who shall remain nameless. (We’re talking to you, “Rob” and “Gari”.)

BP

All Kinds of Shakers

Brainy like a pro, Someguy, down with Pac-Man, brass balls, staying on top of the world, Web World War I, what Frida Kahlo and Popeye have in common, and why ugly old warehouses belong at the heart of every city. Welcome to the All Kinds of Shakers issue.

BEGGARS CAN BE CHOOSERS

As the recent proud purchasers of a Canon PowerShot Pro S3 IS, we’re quite aware of the onerous endeavor that is researching stuff online, and the crucial role product reviews play. Which is why we dig SmartRatings, a new service that aggregates expert reviews on gadgets from across the web and serves them up to you in a nifty, easily digestible format.

You get an overall product score based on the scaled and averaged ratings different experts gave it so you can base your decision on a total score in a unified 1-100 scale. The computer, electronics and camera reviews come from all across the range, from gadget-god-truth-bestowing CNET to casual-opining Stuff. And while they don’t weigh experts differently based on their perceived reputability, they do curate sources to only include solid, legit experts.

Once you’re ready to commit, SmartRatings uses PriceGrabber software to show you where you can snag the thing at the best deal. And if you need more than just gadgets, the Price Finder tool (also based on PriceGrabber) lets you browse any category you fancy, from baby stuff to outdoor gear.

Apparently, you can save a buck on Boy Butter if you get it at drugstore.com over other retailers.

MASHIEST MASH-UP

Here’s a thought: using the capacity of the digital age to spark real creative collaboration. And we’re not talking about video mash-ups and other ephemeral CGC stints. We’re talking about 1000 Journals, an incredibly smart project that meshes the traditional, pen-scissors-and- paper art of journaling with the concept of digital distribution and collaboration, building a tightly knit community around it all.

The way it works is simpler than it sounds: you either start a real paper-based journal, scan it in and upload it, or you join other people’s already uploaded journals and contribute creatively. You control the level of others’ involvement in your own journal — you can make it fully public so anyone can chip in creative content, or you can make it personal and just share with others to look at.

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If you choose to share your journal, it can be either a travelling one (mailed to people who sign up to contribute) or a location one (staying at one public location, such as a cafe, shop, or bookstore). The travelling kind can have a theme if you so with and can be by invitation only or open to everyone who signs up. And the location one is always open to all contributors, but they have to make a trip to the location. You can download instruction bookplates to glue to the inside covers of your creation so people would know what the hell just hit them.

So far, 1000 Journals is sporting close to 3,500 members, more than 600 personal journals, 54 location ones, and over 1,000 travelling. And they’ve already published a best-of book cleverly listed as authored by Someguy.

We must say, the work is sometimes weird, sometimes absolutely brilliant, often dark, but always strikingly honest. Take a look.

PAC-MAN’S NIGHTMARE

Got pixelation nightmares but don’t wanna shell out a grand on Adobe Cs3? The good folks at Stanford are there for you with a free web-based service that lets you turn raster pixelation debacles into great-at-any-size vector images. (For those getting the Huh’s right about now, raster images are pixel-based and get worse as you enlarge them, but vector drawings are made up of geometric shapes that you can resize all you want with zero fuzziness.)

VectorMagic, unlike other similar apps, is seamlessly optimized for any operating system. And, unlike the Adobe stuff, it takes zilch out of your pocket. Plus, completely web-based, so your broadband takes all the slow-down weight from your hard drive. No more Illustrator-crashing-Photoshop-crashing-everything lovelies.

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For your Luddite benefit, these nice folks have an instructional video showing you exactly how to make your vectorization dreams come true. It’s simple, really: you upload a JPG, PNG, GIF, BMP or TIFF, configure what file format you want back (EPS, SVG or PNG), let the vector magic happen, then just review and download your effortless payoff.

Great on everything from pencil-on-paper hand sketches to fuzzy vacation photos, VectorMagic actually outperforms Corel and matches Adobe in a side-by-side comparison of results. And, speaking of results, how about these bad boys?

BALLS FOR RIGHTEOUS BRAWLS

If you’ve touched any piece of media lately, you’ve heard of the WGA strike, writers’ first stance against studio monopoly since 1988. You may have even heard that Steve Carell, in a heroic we’re-all-in-this-together act of support, called NBC and refused to report to work due to not just merely “enlarged balls” but “brass balls.” Whatever their size, he clearly has them to stand up to the giants.

But level of informity aside, if you’re like us, you still need some clarifying nudging to really get what the whole shebang is about. So here’s a neat and pretty compelling clarifier straight from the source:

Pity that audiences, the currency of network ad sales, won’t feel the impact until months later (because season shows are written several episodes ahead), which means networks will sit and wait, hoping writers starve to death, before they do anything proactive. And, for what it’s worth, we’re calling to cancel our Comcast today. How’s that for a 0.00000001% chip at your currency pie, network meanies? We may even mention something about brass balls to the cusomter service rep.

DIGITAL GRAPEVINE

Care to know what’s on the minds, lips and eyes of the world? You could spend half your day sifting through Digg, del.icio.us, YouTube, Fark, Reddit, and all their other web-mates. Or, you could just go to the super-nifty PopUrls, which aggregates, well, popular url’s from every possible buzz source: the video giants (YouTube, Metacafe, iFilm, AOL video and more), the photo hubs (think Flikr and friends), the social bookmarking beasts (your Digg, Fark, del.icio.us and on and on), the news leaders (Yahoo and Google News, among others), and the weird new media hybrids (you know, Twitter, Mahalo and what not).

popurls.pngThis bad-ass lets you customize your view and presentation, from actual content displayed to layout, page background, and font size. It also has a nifty Scrapbook feature that lets you store URL’s on a sticky-note-looking thingie so you wouldn’t have to clutter your bookmarks or open Stickies (if you’re not PC Guy and actually have them).

PopUrls is the rather ingenious brainchild of self-proclaimed “web communications maverick” Thomas Marban, an entrepreneurial Aussie who back in the day co-founded werk3, one of Australia’s first web agencies. This latest project is easily the best execution we’ve seen of the so-called Single Page Aggregators concept.

Just one thing on our wish list for the cool app: tagging content from all the different buzz sources so we can see broader themes and subjects that emerge across the web in real time.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifIn case you’re not following the social networking tumults of the past two weeks, here’s a quick recap: Facebook announced their new “business solutions” platform of hyper-targeted advertising (SocialAds), friend-linked e-commerce recommendations (Beacon), and deep behavioral tracking (Insights), on top of a Microsoft deal. Google, still the laggard in the SN game, responded with a groundbreaking OpenSocial platform, an ad-serving alliance with various high-traffic SN sites.

To give you an idea of the extent of this Google/Facebook face-off, here’s a list of who the OpenSocial allies are and how they fare traffic-wise.

Pretty impressive, given Facebook’s 65 million. But, of course, results will depend entirely on the actual competing platforms and how each handles content. Because, in the end, it always comes down to relevance and engagement, not total eyeball numbers.

Meanwhile, the talk of the town has it that all the Google-Goliath pressure may force Facebook to dump their own recently released proprietary advertising platform and become another sheep in the Google alliance herd. Our plan: wait and see. Sounds like a solid one, no? We’re also not opposed to some wager cash changing hands.

CONSTRUCTING / DECONSTRUCTING CULTURE

Inspired by the classical busts of the Roman Republic, Seattle-based artist Scott Fife works sculptural wonders out of cardboard and pencil. The artist’s architectural training meshes brilliantly with his anthropomorphic studio work to deliver something completely immune to the seen-it-before epidemic.

Scott grew up in the golden age of advertising and large-format magazines, which bred a fascination with pop culture. Then one day, as a student at Cronbrook, he was cleaning up an Andy Warhol show and was taken with the irreverence of the legendary Warholian pop art.

Twenty-five years later, Fife has coined his own strikingly distinct style of culturally-relevant pop art — and pop it is: he’s done sculptures of anyone from Frida Kahlo to Bob Dylan to Popeye. And his scope of vision encompasses culture in its entirety, from the raw to the avant-garde. He’s also sculpted revolutionaries, pin-up girls, Witness his creative process in the making of Lionel Hampton in stop-motion.

We dig the tangible human element in his art: the process of constructing by hand, the indulgence of the traditional by using only old-school tools, the promise of accomplishment engrained in the sense of building. And, for what it’s worth, Scott Fife’s creations strike us more than Warhol’s ever did.

Fine, let the hate mail pour in.

STREET PICKINGS

Midway between Chinatown and Center City stands this architectural pariah and social darling.

Graffiti

And while graffiti sightings are as common as big pharma claims ED to be, this one’s an interesting burst of colorful self-expression in a bland surrounding of industrial murk.

Ah, the power a spray can holds to a face-in-the-crowd teenager.

BP

Angles, Visions and Illusions

Art hearts, saving cyclists, 16 feet of genius, whiteboard wonders, surfing with your posse, mouthing off online, what sex triangles have to do with printing, and why the paranormal is a matter of shutter speed.

THE ART OF THRIFT

Back in the day, we introduced you to Tiny Showcase, the brilliant enterprise that lets artists and art enthusiasts pursue their passions through affordable prices, even donating a portion of profits to a charity of each artist’s choice.

Today, we bring you another art visionary: we*heart*prints, a compilation of great sticker- shockless prints from contemporary artists.

For anywhere between $20 and $150, you can get your art-lovin’ hands on original, anything-but-bland work from folks who do it for anything but the money — while still helping them make rent.

But wait too long and it’s gone — stuff sells out fast. Great for artists, bad for slacker art lovers.

SPIRIT OF GIVING

This year, we’re spreading the holiday guilt-trip-giving spirit early.

Relax, it’s all cool stuff — literally. Like those LED Christmas lights you can get instead of the traditional incandescent variety to save energy, maintenance efforts and “fuck, that was hot!”exclamations upon touch. That’s right, these nifty suckers consume 90% less energy than the standard fare, have a lifetime 10 times that of incandescent ones (so they’re like the CFL’s of mini-lights), and don’t heat up at all (which is why they can afford to be covered by thick plastic rather than “shit, what did I just step on?” glass). And, just like CFL’s, they may cost a bit more, but you’ll be sparing that billboard-powering cycling volunteer some major pedal time. (Remember that from Brain Pickings 1.0 a year ago?)

DAMAGED / GENIUS

The human brain. We’re a little bit obsessed with it here. Its touch is everywhere, from the art inspired by its inner storms, to the complex software modeled after it, to the humor that tickles it. In fact, we’ll argue it’s the greatest product in existence.

But like all products, the human brain is susceptible to glitches in the assembly line. Glitches that result in what society deems “damaged goods.” Glitches like Alzheimer’s disease, Autism, Tourette’s Syndrome and other neurodevelopmental or neurodegenerative diseases.

And based on this social yardstick, Stephen Wiltshire is damaged goods. The 33-year-old British man was diagnosed with Autism when his was a kid and spent his childhood as a mute because he couldn’t relate to other humans. He was sent to a “special school”, where he spent most of his solitary time drawing. Soon, the hobby became his only way of communicating with the world and it became apparent that Stephen had an extraordinary talent.

But the school decided to use the gift to “normalize” him — they took away his drawing supplies so he would have to ask for them, forcing him to speak. And speak he did — his first word was “paper.” By age nine, he was fully verbal. Far more impressively, he was also fully able to draw areal images from imagination (like the imagined effects of an earthquake) and recall to astounding detail.

Stephen is an artistic autistic savant. In 1987, ex-president of the Royal Academy Sir Hugh Casson called him “the most talented child artist in Britain.”

Today, Stephen’s talent has reached new heights. He flies in a helicopter over major cities (Tokyo, Rome, Frankfurt, Hong Kong) and draws panoramic views of the city on a 16-foot-long canvas, down to the most amazing details like the exact number, proportion and position of windows on each building.

Read Stephen’s full life story, check out the gallery of his mind-blowing work and/or buy some prints of this testament to the capacity of the human brain. Meanwhile, see how he crafts a panorama of Rome after he hovers over the great city.

Damaged goods? You be the judge — if you can wrap your own brain around the magic of this one.

THE FLIPSIDE

While seeing a depiction of the world so perfectly linear, static and accurate is impressive, it’s also fascinating to look at the kind of art that interprets the world much like our brains operate: in a non-linear, dynamic, constantly shifting fashion.

Which is why we dig this stop-motion by artist Kristofer Strom, done entirely on a whiteboard — just like the blank slate of our perception uses static shapes and time to interpret complex motion.

See more of the same great art/design vision at Ljudbilden & Piloten.

THE SOCIAL SURFER

Ah, the social web. It stopped being a catchphrase ages ago and now it’s just a fact of life. As is multitasking. So to address the seemingly omnipresent web multitasker, a bunch of web masterminds have just released Flock.

And we dig it because these guys seem to share our passion for a genuine understanding of consumer behavior — the online reflection of which has changed tremendously in recent years, but the fundamental application that propels it — the web browser — hasn’t necessarily kept up. So how about a browser’s that’s the intersection of media, people, and discovery?

flockscreen.pngDubbed The Social Web Browser, this smart newbie aims to give users the most fulfilling experience across all information platforms, from gathering to exchange to self-expression to interaction, as well as across all media. As soon as you login to all your favorite social networking and sharing services, Flock pulls your friends from them into the browser so you can access them whenever. You choose how much you want to see and how often so you can keep track of when your friends have updated their profiles, access their shared media, share web stuff with them, and stay generally connected via whatever services you’re craziest about. See how the magic happens.

A bunch of new themes and extensions are coming soon, but the Flock crew promises a best-of-Firefox fiesta.

Although it’s compatible with Mac, Linux and PC operating systems, its interface and functionality decidedly have our beloved Mac feel — sharing with friends is a drag-and-drop heaven. At the top of your browser window, you get a scrollable filmstrip view of photo and video streams from Facebook, Flickr, PhotoBucket, Piczo, Truveo, YouTube and others. And, of course, the whole ordeal is appropriately open-source so you can code-write your heart out.

Our only caution: not ideal for those 12″ screens. But, hey, now you have yet another excuse to get that spiffy 15″ MacBook Pro.

UNTRIVIA

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And speaking of social, we keep drumming on and on about the power of word of mouth, about how online reviews can make or break a consumer product, and guess what: it’s been confirmed.
Turns out, there’s a particularly WOM-hungry group of net dwellers out there now called “social researchers.” In the yet-to-be-released “Social Shopping Survey 2007,” PowerReviews probed 1,200 people who regularly shop online and spend more than $500 annually. They found that a good 65% of these folks are “social researchers” — a set who actively hunts down consumer reviews before buying stuff and bases final purchase decision on them. More on those WOM-ravenous shoppers:

  • 78% spend over 10 minutes reading the reviews for a single product they’re interested in
  • 64% research products online at least half the time, regardless of where they end up actually buying
  • 82% prefer sifting though consumer reviews to finding out about the product from a knowledgeable store staffer

Ok, we’re off to finally buy that PowerShot we’ve been lusting after with the stellar Amazon reviews.

RAG DEPARTMENT

Okay, the last thing we wanna be is an industry tabloid: enough people talking about Wal-Mart sex triangles and Dentsu upskirt shots of Kournikova already. But we just heard something too gotta-spill to keep to ourselves.

hp2.jpgFresh from our Rumors Allegations, and Gossip department: seems like Hewlett-Packard is cooking up a new web-based service to address the marketing, design, production and printing needs of small business. There’s also some sort of personalized marketing consultancy involved. The mystery creative solutions service will offer pretty much everything an old-school ad agency would: logo design, direct mail, website hosting and design, collateral, online banner advertising, search optimization, print design and production, copywriting and more. And, of course, a promise of affordability.

We’re not exactly sure how HP will attempt to pull this off. (Craigslist wanteds for unemployed creative folk come to mind. And more stock photography than should be legal.) But we’re not surprised: HP has been pushing the “creativity” message big time lately, mostly thanks to some fresh work from Goodby and the recent Gwen Stefani endorsement with its various extensions.

We’re just not exactly convinced their end products won’t end up a tad too close to a certain NASA page.

GHOST OF ART

Yes, it’s real.

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It’s William Hundley‘s completely in-camera, completely haunting, completely brilliant photography. The Entoptic Phenomena project isn’t a product of Photoshop, the wind, or paranormal forces. It’s the work of Hundley’s creative mind…and his social circle.

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The secret: Hundley has his friends jump completely covered in fabric and snaps shots of them mid-air. We love the eerie vibe of the result. Also not too shabby: the photographer’s boldness with colors, patterns and textures.

See his the full project and its interesting extensions. (Our favorite: Friends, in which the Entoptic Phenomena awkwardly share space with static everyday characters.)

BP

Price Tags of Life

Money to burn, the world’s most profitable non-retailer, worse than rehab, outmobying Moby, farting sheep, cashing in on karma, how Josh feels about the homeless, and absolutely nothing related to Halloween. Welcome to the Price Tags of Life issue.

CASH FLOW DAM

$Okay, so maybe money does make the world go ’round. But managing it also takes away from our time enjoying the world’s ’round-going. Especially when the average American juggles 13 total credit obligations (9 credit cards and 4 installment loans) for a staggering national consumer debt of $2.47 trillion. So anything that makes that whole money game easier is a welcome crutch in our crippled sprint away from bankruptcy.

Say hello to Mint.com, a totally free, totally secure service that’s out to refresh money management. An effortless way to pull all of your financial stuff in one place and stay on top of things, it takes less than 5 minutes to set up. You just go through a few authentication steps for each of the accounts you add (credit cards, banks, checking accounts, savings, etc.) and you’re good to go. (And just to reiterate for the paranoid types out there, Mint provides bank-level data security. That’s PayPal with a chastity belt.

The minty magic also gives you snapshot of your spending patterns, so you know where you’re blowing your budget, and offers helpful saving tips based on your financial activity. And it saves the average user $1,000 at the first login. Bonus points for the wonderfully Appleish, widgety feel and an interface that’s as hip as anything financial can get.

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It’s been a while since we endorsed something with such lack of reservation and snark, but this one’s a real Brain Pickings Seal of Approval winner. More importantly, it’s also the winner of this year’s TechCrunch 40 grant: that’s a $50,000 nod. Do check it out.

UNTHREADED WATERS

If you’re an aspiring designer, artist, art director or other artsy-crafty type, you’re familiar with Threadless: the Chicago-based website that lets people submit t-shirt designs to be voted on by others, then manufactures the top 7 designs each week and pays the artists $2,500 a piece. Last month, Threadless opened their first retail store in Chicago, taking the nontraditional to a whole new level. They’re even staying away from the “store” label and calling it a community center instead, a “project” rather than a “business”.

The two-story, 1,700 square-foot establishment carries a maximum of 20 t-shirt designs at a time, changing them up every Friday regardless of their popularity. And we’re talking about the first floor.

The second floor is actually merchandise-free, providing instead a space for group classes, random gatherings, or just a WiFi getaway. This kind of community-centric model fully reflects the founding philosophy of the 7-year-old company.

And it has become no small hub of creativity: with over 500,000 registered members and 1,000 weekly design submissions, Threadless spends over $1 million a year compensating artists for their designs. At $15 to $17 price tag for t-shirts, we guess it’s safe to say these folks must be on to something. In fact, their global annual sales have now topped $17 million — no small feat for the 35-employee getup whose primary contributors are starving artists.

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So whether you’re into entrepreneurism, art, or fashion, Threadless is worth taking a look at. Even if only for the not-so-remote possibility that it may embody the future of retail.

SELLOUT BOY

Frankly, it’s a bit dizzifying when everyone and their mother is throwing beat-up terms like “indie”, “commercialization”, “sell-out,” and “Bob Dylan is a soulless fucking hypocrite” at us. Sure, lines are blurring. And money is being made. But the whole marketplace of licensing tunes to advertising is leaving fans, and some Washington Post staffers, kinda bitter.

So one such indignant guy came up with The Moby Equation: a very, very precise mathematical formula using very, very subjective quotients to measure how much exactly an artist has “sold out.” (Not that you’re wondering, because it’s so blatantly obvious, but just in case: the name was inspired by the legendary licensing bonanza that landed just about every track on Moby’s 1999 Play album in a commercial.)

So we decided to see how “nonconformist” Regina Spektor fared with her “Music Box” stint for JC Penny (a.k.a. Saatchi’s attempt to infuse the bland retailer with some lovemark juice.) The formula spat out an impressive Moby Quotient of 312.56. But there seemed to be some kinda bug: although you can calculate the quotient, you can’t really submit a comment as clicking the “submit” button gets you to that oh-so-familiar standard error page.

So much for our snarky remark about Regina’s only chance in life to out-something The Clash.

BIG IN JAPAN

And on that note, those of us who’ve seen Lost In Translation know a thing or two about the Japanese commercial exploits of Western celebrities. One YouTube user took to bursting Hollywood’s sacredness bubble by compiling an extensive library of such Japanese commercials, spanning over 20 years and featuring dozens of A-listers.

The clips range from the laughable (please keep those towels on, Harrison Ford and Japanese sauna-mate) to the mildly offensive (who thought Jack Bauer was a calorie-conscious kinda man) to the grossly bizarre (hey there, naked Homer and Bart shilling C.C. Lemon).

https://youtube.com/watch?v=kRLF4G1eAng

Go ahead, indulge your makes-them-look-so-much-less-enviable craving with the complete collection.

UNTRIVIA

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We’re doing something a little different this week. This Untrivia edition is less about what people are doing, saying or thinking and more about what they should be doing, saying or thinking in light of some interesting facts, ranging from just plain odd to pretty damn disturbing. Consider them little tidbits of eye-opening stuff, stuff to inspire you to make simple changes, or just stuff to make you look smarter next time you’re trying to pick up an eco-hippie. Here we go:

  • Americans use 60,000 plastic bags every 5 seconds
  • It takes 25 bath tubs (1,250 gallons) of water to make a single half-pound beef patty (and 417 gallons for half a pound of tofu)
  • In the US alone, over 1 billion bottles of water get shipped on trains, trucks and boats, resulting in 37,800 18-wheelers guzzling the roads to deliver it
  • People chug over 30 billion throwaway bottles of water a year, enough to go around the world 150 times with an end-to-end chain of the used bottles
  • Cattle and sheep pass so much gas they account for a mind-blowing 18% of all methane, one of the greenhouse gases
  • Mining gold for a single ring creates 20 tons of waste rock, leaking cyanide (used to separate metal from ore) and other heavy metals into the environment

So what’s an average Joe to do? Cut back on the Sloppy Joes, get a Brita, start shopping with a canvas bag, get over that must-wear-gold ego and, for God’s sake, give those poor cows some Beano.

PROFITABLE KARMA

Say what you will of eBay, but we can’t deny the media empire started out with a very utilitarian, user-need-centric mentality. Skype and PayPal definitely fit this model. But the latest addition to the family is truly revolutionary in vision and functionality.

microplace1.pngMicroPlace is on a remarkable mission: to alleviate global poverty by letting everyday Americans invest in businesses run by the working poor. It’s called microinvesting and besides helping those in need take their small business ideas to market, it also gives investors a financial return on their humanitarianism. We see it as the ultimate giving back.

You choose the region you want to invest in (Africa, Eurasia, Latin America or Southeast Asia) or the specific country: to help you pick, MicroPlace gives you some (pretty scary) info on the country’s mortality rate, HIV prevalence, population, life expectancy, and percentage of population earning less than $1 a day. You can start with as little as $100, which may be just a Halloween outfit for you, but will help some woman (most traders, farmers and craftspeople in the developing world are female) earn a living wage with her own brain- and hand-child.

We’re all for smart symbiotic relationships and smart solutions to big global problems, so this one’s a real list-topper on our all-things-smart collection. Be your own judge.

AS SEEN IN PHILLY

First, some background so you can put this week’s sighting in context: on the ramp connecting the Chestunt and Market Street bridges to the Schuylkill trail, there’s a certain bench that, for the past couple of years, has been permanently occupied by a homeless man. Most of the time, by one particular, particularly smelly homeless man. (But with 3,000 homeless cramming Philly’s handful of shelters and another 300 roaming the streets on an average day, this poor guy isn’t even a blimp on the city’s homeless radar.)

Passing by it the other day, we were startled to find one upright citizen by the name of Josh had taken matters into his own too-much-time-on hands and erected the following radical homeless-deterrent over the bench:

not the answer

Of course it’s not the answer. And of course it’s not the humane thing to do. But what it is is part of the social conversation about a clearly hot-button issue. So while Josh may not have the solution, we firmly believe that real solutions are arrived at only through serious, intense and, yes, uncomfortable conversation. Because a society with no controversy and conversation is just a tad too Orwellian for our tastes.

But we can’t help pondering the moral implications of investing time and money in such a blatant Band-Aid when this same expenditure could’ve been used towards a (tiny) stab at a cure.

BP

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