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Concepts Revisited

Isaac Asimov vs. Rosie, outcreeping taxidermy, design to save China, why your friends and your ZIP code will change the way we do business, how 148 monkeys will deem MySpace moot, and what rivers have to do with music. Welcome to the Concepts Revisited issue.

MODERNITY IN RETROSPECT

robot.pngThe 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.

Simons also shares our fascination with anatomy — his paper anatomy head model is a true hybrid of art and science. Again, it may be a tad too real to add to your living room art collection — but then again, it’s sure to spur quite a bit of conversation at your next dinner party. (And maybe some, um, recycled entrées.)

COOLER THAN NIGHTVISION

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.

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It may look all fashion, but it’s all about function: the TONG is 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.

FRIENDLY LOCALS

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?)

loladex.pngNext, 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.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gif 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.

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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.

Rock on, andr + mgPePe.

BP

The Nonjudgmental Issue

3/4 inches of Al Gore, street-walking Mona Lisas, avuncular metrosexuals, off-handed soap, vegan vixens, viral drunken slurs, how Facebook is the new police, what Gmail and the Lochness Monster have in common, and why your brain is more vocal than you ever thought. Welcome to The Nonjudgmental Issue.

ONE WORD: WORD

paperpile_istockphotoemail.jpgPaper: good to save, bad to waste. Which is why we dig the idea of the paperless office, especially since the average employee prints 6 unnecessary pages per day, raking up a grand total of 1,410 per person per year. Um, that’s a lotta trees. So today we give you tips on how to make your office a paperless (or at least paper-minimalist) one.

ChangeTheMargins.com has come up with the simplest, most brilliant paper-saving tip: slightly reduce the default margins in Microsoft Word. (The site also has an ongoing petition to Microsoft to impact change on a much larger scale by reducing the software’s default margins.) Bill Gates has them at 1.25 inches, so even a modest reduction to 0.75 (which still keeps your docs looking spiffy) could save a Rhode-Island’s worth of trees per year if everyone in the country did it.

Here’s how:

  • Mac: Go to File > Page Setup. In the Settings menu, select Microsoft Word and hit Margins. Change top, bottom, left and right to .75 and, if you’re feeling generous, change header and footer to .3, then hit Default and say “YES” when it asks whether you’d like to change the Normal template. Wait for Al Gore to call and congratulate you.
  • PC: Go to File > Page Setup and hit the Default key — it’ll ask you “Do you want to change the default settings for the page set up?” Raise you right fist, say “YES!”, and change it to .75.

pdf.pngAnd now to the even smarter stuff: why use paper at all? Print all the docs you want to save to a PDF — electronic, searchable, easy to send. And just in case you give us some BS about computer crash paranoia, ask yourself this: How many times in your lifetime has your hard drive crashed? And how many times have you “misplaced” a loose sheet of paper? Exactly. So here’s how to do it:

  • Mac: You’ve got it easy: just go to File > Print and instead of hitting the actual Print button, hit the PDF one in the bottom left-hand corner. Choose the destination where you’d like to save the PDF and hit Save. Breezy.
  • PC: Download the free doPDF Windows utility. After it self-installs, you’re all set — just hit Print and select doPDF, then choose where to save. Rejoice in feeling almost Mac-like.

We know people who always go for paper. Whether it’s out of mindless habit or sheer self-absorbed disregard for the environment, we try not to judge — hard as it may be. But these nifty tips are so simple anyone with half a brain and half a heart can do them. And although we suspect someone may have used this phrase before: JUST DO IT (dammit).

CORNER MUSE

Here’s to the beauty of the world: people are different. And so are prostitutes. Regardless of how you may feel about the business of pleasure, it’s hard not to dig Project Prostitute: it started with a few friends drawing illustrations of what they think a prostitute looks like. But the great variation of perspectives and interpretations turned out so funny, fascinating and eye-opening that it just kept going and going and going like a multiple…eh, never mind.

Project ProstituteRight now, you can see hundreds of “escort” illustrations — the current gallery spans across a number of categories, from the disgusting to the puzzling to the beautiful, and more. And you can even submit your own.

And just in case you’re wondering, the project seems to neither glorify nor judge prostitution. It claims to just be an art experiment in perspective. But we also think that, if anything, it’s a sad-clown reminder that dejection and circumstance can push people of so many different walks of life into this business of despair.

And, okay, some of them are pretty funny.

PINK EYE CANDY

While some seemingly bizarre social art experiments may drive a bigger point home, others are just plain bizarre. Say hello to Pink Shirt Guy, who has an entire website — and now a hefty following of pranksters — devoted to “hiding” him.

It all began when a bizarre picture with questionable authenticity was posted on the Internet. The sheer hilarity of that picture and the viral nature of the social web proceeded to sprout hundreds of spoofs, including a YouTube video. Eventually, the site was created as a shrine to the still-anonymous Pink Shirt Guy, offering downloadable cutouts of the cult man and urging users to place them in bizarre locations.

Which they eagerly did, in locations that take the hilarity of the whole thing to barely bearable levels. So we decided to partake.

pinkshirtguy.jpg

HANDS DOWN EERIE

Weird begets weird: we’re on a roll, so might as well embrace it. And why do it with two arms when we can do it with more?

handsoap2.pngOur product pick of the week walks the fine line between cute and creepy. Eh, who are we kidding — there ain’t no fine line, it’s a thick fence, and this one’s knee-deep in the creepy side…but in a sort of cool way. The Handsoapâ„¢ is handmade daily by artist Marie Gardeski, so only 20 sets are available per day.

handsoap1.pngA set consists of at least 10 hands of various sizes and “skin” colors, made from goat milk and vegetable glycerin.

Get yourself a creepy little set for $17 so you can wash your creepy little hands with other creepy little hands.

VEGAN VIXENS

Clearly, we don’t judge here. And with this nonjudgmental attitude we bring you the latest — wait, the first ever — fusion of “adult” entertainment and vegan credo: the Casa Diablo Gentlemen’s Club in Portland, a fully vegan strip club.

casadiablo.jpgAnd by “fully” we mean “fully” — even the “vegan vixens,” as the “dancers” go by, are clad in pleather instead of leather, and the authentic Mexican cuisine fare is made with soy “meat.”

Founded by entrepreneur Johnny Diablo, a vegan himself, the club may actually turn out to be a smart business idea catering to the overlap of two hefty markets — despite its negative reception by some vegans. It also doesn’t hurt that they’ve got free WiFi, a kitchen open until 2AM, and a smoke-free “business environment” for those elusive Big Wig deals. Even the Discovery Channel featured the club in their Planet Green show.

And, for once, we can say an over-the-top MySpace page is just the right vehicle to capture the, um, vibe of this venture. But, again, we don’t judge.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifAnd speaking of firsts, here’s a “Did You Know…” moment brought to you by Untrivia:

The first online banner ad was for Grolsch beer in 1995. It was also the first commercial viral campaign — it promoted the hunt of a character called Shymongrel (which is what get when you rapidly repeat “I’m on Grolsch” in a tipsy slur) hidden across multiple websites.

This factoid and others are why we love .NET magazine.

JUNK CONTROL

We agree with a certain entrepreneur friend that the startup bubble will never burst. Mostly because today’s startups, unlike the money- grubbing ones of the dot-com boom, are all about providing smart solutions to existing needs and problems — so their market is already there.

Case in point: a brand new Facebook app, which just launched this week, is making the virtual world even more of a utilitarian crutch to the real one. Trace is a virtual lost-and-found that allows users to register their can’t-live-withouties (iPods, bikes, computers, etc.) so that when the goodies are lost and subsequently found by a virtuous other, the latter can easily trace them back to their owner and return them.

Normally, we’d scoff with cynicism. But we’ve been fortunate enough to have an iPod returned to us by a string of such virtuous others, after the gadget made its way from a high-traffic 300-person lecture hall to the professor to the building manager to the campus community manager’s desk, where we gleefully picked it up from.

Trace aims to spare people the burden of figuring out whom to pass the lost goodie off to and making the trip to that person’s office. Now, a Facebook login is all you need to do: it’s all 1’s and 0’s, baby. And it also provides a nifty way for reporting stolen property — so when your precious Schwinn Deluxe 7 shows up on the other end of campus, you have the registration proof that it’s yours.

The app was developed at the University of North Texas and is endorsed by the UNT police, who recognize that Trace exponentially increases the chances of lost property being recovered. It is currently being promoted to over 1,000 national universities and we have high faith in its do-gooding capacity.

THIS IS NOT A HOAX

Just in time for April’s Fool, what better way to warm up than a glance at history’s greatest hoaxes?

Enter The Museum of Hoaxes — a hefty collection of hoaxes, curated by historian Alex Boese. The project began when Alex was in grad school and decided to put his research notes online, so he could access them from the library while working on his doctoral dissertation. But then people started finding the link, writing in, commenting, and basically begging for it to evolve into a full-blown museum of hoaxes.

snowball.gifIronically, Alex never finished the dissertation, but the Museum took on a life of its own and even landed Alex an eponymous book deal. Today, the Museum is an all-things- hoax resource. There’s a history of hoaxes, starting with the vegetable lambs of the 1700’s and going all the way up to today’s faux celebrity death reports. A gallery of photo hoaxes from the Civil War to the present. A hoax photo test to assess your gullibility. A collection of the top 10 college pranks of all times. A gallery of tell-tale creatures from the fur-bearing crab to the Lochness monster and everything in between. And a particularly timely one: top 100 April Fool’s hoaxes of all times. Without giving you too much of a spoiler, we’ll say the chart-topping hoax took place in 1957 and has to do with BBC news, Swiss farmers and spaghetti. Genius.

TINFOIL HELMET BEWARE

audeo.gifSpeak your mind much? Well, now you can — literally. In a project that could easily be the greatest technological advancement of the century, a team of biotech scientists developed AUDEO — a human-computer interface that projects the neurological signals of your unvoiced conscious thoughts onto a speech generator.

AUDEO uses a wireless device resting over the vocal cords capable of intercepting neurological information from the brain. A data analysis algorithm then translates this information into synthesized speech. And rest assured — the interface won’t broadcast your subconscious thoughts. It only picks up neurological signals that require much higher levels of awareness, such as formulated thoughts “packaged” for speech but unspoken.

audeo2.png

Clearly, the technology aims to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, but it goes far beyond the mute. In this unbelievable demonstration, you can see how AUDEO enables a paralyzed man with ALS to control his wheelchair with nothing but his conscious thought. The technology was developed in partnership with the University of Illinois and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, with funding from theNational Center for Supercomputing Applications and National Instruments.

Sounds like Sci Fi? It’s real, and we think it’ll redefine the future of medicine, wireless technology and neuroscience. Because every great innovation begins with some intelligent brain-picking.

BP

All Things Hacked

Junkyard chic, 4.8oz of gawk, outsmugging Mac guy, Victorian computers, pre-electricity Internet, a museum of the future, how to get strangers to instantly trust you, what The Blue Man group and diaper changing tables have in common, why a missing comic book hero is the modern Nietzsche, and whose entire life you can buy on eBay.

JUNK HACKER

MaxAlas, we may have just discovered something that outawesomes the super-awesome repurposed materials fare from a couple of weeks ago. Because reestore may recycle objects, but their furniture designs are 100% original. They say they “take everyday waste objects and cheekily turn them into charming yet functional pieces of furniture and accessories.” And they mean business.

OliviaMost of the pieces are pure design delight, all hip no hippie. And it seems like they’re all crafted with a lot of love: each product carries a “human” name and its description addresses it as a respective “he” or “she.”Heather

reestore reminds us of childhood when imagination made common household objects into superhero attire and snow sleds and medieval castles. Except reestore makes stuff that helps adults be hip adults. Some of our favorites: Heather the waste tube lamp (right), Max the roll top bath loveseat (above right), Olivia the hanger folding chair (above left), Agnes the rear bumper sofa, and their most popular: Silvana, the washing machine drum lamp.

Pick your own faves — or, hey, make some of your own. All it takes is a design eye and a prolific dumpster.

BLING HACKER

And if doing unexpected things with useless old crap is exciting, it’s all that much more exciting when you do it with really, really expensive new crap. Which is why we dig the Conice 6×18 Zoom Attachment for iPhone.

Sure, it may weight almost as much as the iPhone itself (4.69 oz, vs. 4.8 oz), but it sure pimps the iPhone’s measly 2-megapixel fixed-lens camera with its 6x optical zoom. Only glitch we foresee: the iPhone has no image stabilization whatsoever, so those long-distance zooms would require bomb-squad-steady hands.

Still, at $14.77 with free shipping, it’s worth it even just for goofing around and making people gawk. Just like Steve Jobs here.

SCREEN HACKER

Okay, so maybe you’re not as fortunate as us to have OS X Leopard with its nifty screen share feature. (Which actually begs the question of why you’re depriving yourself of that ultimate license for smugness.) But smug as we may be, we’re also charitable: so we’ll turn you onto another way to share your computer screen with others, letting them see what you’re looking at and seeing what they are.

Enter YuuGuu, which does just that. Once you download and complete the super-simple registration, you can build your private network or invite your friends to also join so you can do remote screen-sharing.

Best part: soon you’ll even be able to share screens with people who don’t have YuuGuu, thanks to a new feature called Web Share. And even Leopard can’t claim that — your network is still confined to others who also have Leopard, not to mention it’s only within your system network (a.k.a. office, etc.) rather than all around the web.

Downloadable free for Mac or Windows.

RETRO HACKER

One of our favorite trends from the past decade — retro-futurism — has made a quiet but powerful return lately. Gadgets are being de-timed at rapid rates, producing sculptures of historical modernity.

You may recall our passing mention of the Modbook — a slate-style tablet Mac reminiscent of the now-ancient Newton, but sporting the latest and greatest of software and hardware: Leopard, Firewire, BlueTooth, AirPort, USB and more, topped with a 2.1GHz processor. And if you’re not a believer already, watching it in action will certainly make you one.

But that’s minor league retro-futurism. Because all the big boys are busy translating the Steampunk genre (you know, that speculative science fiction thing of the 80’s and 90’s) to today’s tech arena. And there are a handful of undisputed King Pins in that scene.

There’s Jake von Slatt (an alias, of course) whose Steampunk Workshop brings an Industrial Revolution life to modern objects. He decks out everything from Altoid Tins to keyboards to guitars in brassy, etched, Victorian goodness to really capture the notion that Steampunk is the intersection of science and romance.

Then we have the arguably even more hardcore Datamancer — there you’ll find stuff so elaborate it’ll make your head hotter than a steam locomotive’s boiler. As if the Steampunked Laptop isn’t wild enough, he’s cooking up something that’s a whole nother ball game: a Pixello-Dynamotronic Computational Engine. (If you’re having trouble saying it, try making it.)

And to put a twist on the already twisty, there’s Greg Brotherton of Brotron — he takes the design elements of Steampunk, putting the technology aside, and superimposes them on elements of pop culture and mythology, often to a stunning yet diabolical result. His aim, in his own words, is to “create heroic icons from our ever-evolving cultural saga.”

All in all, it’s a whole fascinating subculture that creates its own mythology through storytelling unlike anything else out there, a cultural time machine if there ever was one. Dig in some more with the guys at Wired.

INTERWEBS HACKER

Here’s a dose of Steampunk for our web generation: the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine. hotmail.pngIt’s a catalog of 85 billion web pages archived from 1996 to today. (Yep, you read right: billion.) So you can check out what your favorite websites looked like way back before running water and electricity.

Mostly, we dig it because it’s fascinating how easily we adapt to and endorse new technology, taking it for granted before the developers’ motherboards have cooled from building it. Email? Puh-leez. RSS? Ha. Streaming video? Meh.

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So feel free to dig back, point and laugh, but then when you snap back out, remember you’re doing it all on a blog…that you reached through your email or your RSS feed…that talks about iPhones and widgets…with embedded video…and a bit of Ajax…without ever hearing the brain-drilling sound of a dial-up modem.

And, suddenly, 1996 seems nothing like 2008.

HACKER HACKER

Here’s an antidote to the horrible flashbacks of pre-Gmail times past. Remember the London Design Museum’s Design Library from a couple of weeks ago? Now imagine the same thing, only instead of fashion, architecture and real-world technology, it’s about websites and apps and all those exciting online lovelies. Now stop imagining and just visit the Museum of Modern Betas, or MoMB.

MoMB may be in early Alpha itself, but this isn’t stopping it from cataloging a world’s worth of apps in Beta. You can browse them all by language, most anticipated, all-time top 100, latest hot 100, and more.

Skimming them is a nifty test of how up to speed with the two-point-oh Interwebs you are. But it’s also an exciting discovery tool — we stumbled upon some great stuff, way beyond our usual Beta main squeezes like Gmail, Flickr, Twitter and the like. Go — explore.

IMPRESSION HACKER

You may recall the guys you can hire to remedy your reputation by burying those what-was-I-thinking moments. Well, now you’ve got a Plan B — say “hey mamma” to the Liquid Trust Spray from Vero Labs.

The product is based on oxytocin — a human hormone and neurotransmitter secreted in acts of social recognition and bonding, including hugging and touching. Your brain gushes it at the sight, smell, touch or even thought of people you love.

Now, we’d be the first to vouch for the legitimacy of the hormone itself, thanks to our countless hours in cognitive science lecture halls, but the premise of the product is a whole different story. It promises that the oxytocin in it will make people develop a strong, inexplicable, immediate feeling of trust when they meet you, without ever realizing you’re neuro-scamming them. (Okay, that last part is our words.)

Read their spiel and decide whether you wanna shell out $50 for this social snake oil or just, you know, be a trustworthy person with an extra $50 in their pocket.

HOME HACKER

ikeahacker.pngFew brands can claim as loyal a following as IKEA’s, and even fewer can sprout so much creative interpretation. We’re talking about IKEA Hacker, a blog that agglomerates the funkiest, most creative transformations of IKEA furniture into something cooler, more functional or entirely different.

leitboxinstall.jpg

Some are utilitarian, like the space-saving moddi murphybed hack that turns it into a hideaway bed. Most are design-inspired, like the leitbox-backlit mini-collages or the light mods stand for Mac Mini. And some are just wild, like the convergence of a sniglar baby changing table and PVC pipe into a 22-note Blue-Man-Groupesque instrument that plays anything from the Flintstones theme to AC/DC.

IKEA Hacker started back in 2006 with a quick Google search that yielded an astounding amount of creative hacks, which just begged to be compiled in one place for all Swedish meatball lovers to savor. Or attempt — the blog sprouted the Instructables hacks group, where you can get step-by-step instructions on various hack projects. There’s even a Facebook app that lets you share your latest hacks and designs with your friends.

We’re off to watching that baby changing table play My Sharona. And we imagine if PacMan was in a band, that’s he instrument he’d be playing.

HUMOR HACKER

And now for some comic relief — literally. What happens when a comic strip is relieved of its main hero? You can find out a Garfield Minus Garfield, a brilliantly entertaining exercise in neo- minimalism that captures the tragicomic elements of modern self-conception as Jon Arbuckle embarks upon solitary adventures into the questionable corners of mental health.

And if you’re like us and often feel like your life’s been robbed of its Garfield (ever worry your neighbors hear your heated debates with yourself?), then you’ll relate all the more.

LIFE HACKER

And now for the grand finale: the ultimate hack. One guy in Australia, Ian, is walking the fine line between genius and idiocy by putting up his whole life for sale. It has nothing to do with suicide, the dude’s just had enough and wants to start from scratch, with nothing but a passport and a ton of cash.

Basically, what he’s doing is to identity theft what shopping is to shoplifting.

Why? He had a life-wrecking breakup with his wife of 12 years, whom he still can’t get over. So he figured the only way out is the all-out out. How? One huge eBay auction, slated to kick off on June 22. And, most importantly, what?

fulllife.png

Everything. His house, car, and bike. His furniture and clothes. His hobbies — skydiving gear and jet skis. His friends. Even his job.

No, this is not a joke. The dude is for real and all business — we strongly recommend you check out his site, complete with his reasons, the full list of stuff and their valuation, before this life brokerage thing becomes the latest neo-nomad trend.

BP

Context vs. Controversy

You’re a clichè, lots of skin, stuff that killed people, stuff that will kill you, policing the police, what Hitler is finding painfully unfunny, which European is holding suburban America hostage, how to get $80,782 from people who like you, and why the paparazzi are finally out of business.

BEYOND NASCAR

Making waves with a new website launch is so hard these days, what with taken domain names and beaten been-done-before concepts. Alas, newcomer Stuff White People Like, having dodged both 2.0 kisses of death, is off to a critically acclaimed start — and we think it has sprouted a new trend we like to call “affectionate stereotyping.”

whitepeople.png

But sensationalist title aside, the witty blog doesn’t actually talk about race at all — it’s more about a certain economic subset united by the common gene for Christopher Guest movies, “The” bands, Whole Foods, Nordic furniture, and Obama. And, somehow, it manages to capture those tastes surprisingly well, indulging the shared disdain for certain mainstream pastimes (say, television) to nail the exceptions (say, The Wire.) In fact, it does it so well you should consider yourself warned: you may end up feeling like a far too common, albeit culturally elitist, walking clichè. Do you have bad memories of high school? Listen to public radio? Got a lot of t-shirts? Hate “The Man”? Recycle? Then you’re a figurative “white person.” They even got us on the Michel Gondry front. Shame. See the full list, then join us in a disillusioned head-down retreat to the “white person” factory. But, in all seriousness, this is easily the smartest blog we’ve come across in a long time. Between all the “affectionate stereotyping” and the captivating, witty voice, it somehow manages to ask all the big questions of identity, society, culture, politics and life. Plato couldn’t have done it better himself — despite his quintessential ancient white personness.

LARGER THAN LIFE

Campaign for Real BeautySpeaking of social trends, could fat be the new phat? We’re not talking about the acclaimed but oh-so-over- discussed Real Women of Dove, who are actually quite the hot stuff. We’re talking way, um, realer.

Like the “models” British celeb megaboober Katie Pierce, who goes by the alter ego Jordan, used in the launch of her eponymous lingerie line. The 29-year-old Anna-Nicolesque Brit tapped girls from her fan club to do the job — we’re resisting a joke about her “biggest admirers.” Unsuccessfully.

bigballet.pngThen there’s the Big Ballet — another U.K. phenomenon that, Turkey Lake jokes aside, has been said to put good ol’ skinny ballet acts to shame. In fact, the tour has gotten so big the ensemble is extremely hard to book.

But, really, there’s a King Pin in fat town. Big Fat Deal has been around since 2004, dissecting with snark and irreverence the pop culture portrayals of weight and “hottyness.”

But the blog, written by the mysterious duo of Weetabix and mo pie, has enjoyed a recent spike in popularity. It’s even got a Facebook group. We’re pretty ambivalent about the premise here — BFD works under the “fat acceptance” mantra — given our tax dollars are paying for the costs of obesity. But we must admit good questions are being asked and good points are being made. Like how come fat women feel betrayed when a fat celebrity gets back into shape? And why are fat people expected to slim down, but get mocked when they exercise?

Trans-fat-loaded food for thought, have a bite.

MEMOIRS OF NOSTRADAMUS

We like the present. Mostly because it’s a lot like us: egocentric. So we’ve always dug indulgences like Today In Music History. But because we’re all about making people uncomfortable this week, we turn to times when the present was less of a gift: a “today in disaster history” dose of morbidity brought to you by The Living Almanac of Disasters.

Earthquakes. Fires. Floods. Crashes. Eruptions. Collisions. Bombings. It’s got it all. Twenty-eight years ago today, for example, 22 members of the US boxing team died in a crash in Poland. Or on our birthday, when in 1945 the Empire State Building took its first hit by an airplane.

So check your birthday. Your anniversary. (Like you need another disaster on that date.) The day you lost your virginity. Hey, let’s go crazy: the day you had your first prostate exam. Superstition stopping you? Phsh.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gif If all the disaster talk got you paranoid, here’s a refreshing reality check about what could actually kill you and with what likelihood. Because common availability bias (our tendency to overestimate the statistical prevalence of things we’re bombarded with in the media or have experienced ourselves) can really do a number on your objectivity. So here are your chances of dying from select non-health-related causes in the U.S.:

  • Motor vehicle accident: 1 in 100
  • Homicide: 1 in 300
  • Fire: 1 in 800
  • Firearms accident: 1 in 2,500
  • Electrocution: 1 in 5,000
  • Asteroid/comet impact: 1 in 20,000
  • Passenger in aircraft accident: 1 in 20,000
  • Flood: 1 in 30,000
  • Tornado: 1 in 60,000
POLICE POLICE

And now for some real controversy — how much transparency should there be in government? According to Rate My Cop, an online forum where people voice raves and rants about police officers, a lot.

Under the tagline “You have the right to remain informed,” the privately-held website aims to do just that — keep citizens informed about the positives and negatives of the police force serving them. Because, after all, the police is a public service — so giving the public a say is only natural. Especially in light of the infamous Cop vs. Skater video of uncalled for police brutality that garnered over 4 million views in under a month.

The site encourages people to rate — anonymously but responsibly — each encounter they have with a police officer. And while we dig the concept of citizen empowerment through information and conversation, we wonder whether in this day and age of American Idol text voting and mass bandwagoning just for the sake of it, rating something as serious as the national police force may become a petty game of saying anything just to avoid saying nothing.

URGE TO PURGE

120 Funny Swastika CartoonsOur product pick this week is the latest book by famed New Yorker cartoonist S. Gross. We Have Ways of Making You Laugh: 120 Funny Swastika Cartoons is, from the paradoxically comic title to the very last page of stellar artwork, an exercise in purging some of history’s heaviest burdens through humor.

In the publisher’s own words: “These witty, beautifully rendered images gleefully stomp through the darkest moments in history and remind us that humor can diffuse our unspoken fears and deflate an overwrought icon.”

Which resonates nicely with one of our favorite quotes by author and humorist Mary Hirsch. “Humor is a rubber sword — ” she says, “it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” That, and it’s funnier than watching other people’s cats fall in toilets on YouTube.

LITTLE CHOP OF HORRORS

Found Saw disturbing? Thought No Country For Old Men was gratuitously violent? Then don’t go anywhere near what’s already being dubbed this year’s most disturbing film: Funny Games. It’s the latest work in English by acclaimed Austrian director Michael Haneke of Caché fame, starring (of course) the supreme Naomi Watts.

It’s about a well-off all-American family forced to make excruciating decisions about each other’s fates as they are all taken hostage by a ruthless duo of psychotic young misanthropes. And it’s already making waves in the critics circles.

Now, we’ve done a few brief stints in the psychology of violence and its effects on human thought, especially children. So we’re often thrown off by the gratuitous violence of today’s entertainment. But it’s interesting to see something that puts violence in the context of moral choice, making people extremely uncomfortable not by virtue of the violence itself but by posing the big, uncomfortable human questions.

Get uncomfortable starting March 14 at a theater near you.

OUTMANNING THE MAN

As if there isn’t enough controversy in today’s music industry already, one artist is doing the unthinkable: Jill Sobule is asking fans to fund her next record. That’s all the clearly talented singer-songwriter could do after she got dumped by two major record labels and two indie ones went bankrupt on her tenure. (Her ego must be on life support.)

She’s offering 12 levels of “pledges” fans can donate to: for $10, you get a digital download of the album once it’s made; at the $200 “silver level,” you get free admission to all her shows this year; then there’s the $500 “gold level” wherein Jill gets to mention your name in a song — you can upgrade that to the $750 “gold doubloons level,” which Jill says is “exactly like the gold level, but you give [her] more money.” (Gotta love it.) Or, you can go all-out with the $10,000 “weapons-grade plutonium level” in which you get to actually sing on her CD.

 width=We give her points for extreme inventiveness. But points don’t get you published — she set a $75,000 goal. Well, guess what — in a little over a month, she more than met it and capped out at $80,782. How’s that for proving Kevin Kelly’s brilliant 1000 True Fans theory right?

And we must say this ultimate power-to-the-people thing is pretty awesome — traditionally, fans have always played a huge role in the music industry because their buying power ultimately decides what succeeds. But why not empower them even further back in the music production process, letting them decide not just what sells but also what gets made in the first place? Smart, we say, smart.

IMAGE AND LIKENESS

Alison Jackson has been on our radar for quite some time. We weren’t sure what to make of her work — she shoots celebrity lookalikes in classic paparazzi scenarios to a strikingly realistic effect, indulging us with what we secretly hope to see our favorite celebs doing. But then we heard her rather thought-provoking TED talk (aren’t they all?) and had a thought:

Her work is being criticized for glorifying the cheap business of tabloid and celebrity even more, but it actually does the very opposite: it makes us really think about why we’re drawn to celebrity culture in the first place. It makes all those pop culture idols seem like nothing more than packageable images. And it’s those superficial images we consume, not the real values of the people behind them — otherwise, why would lookalikes elicit the same emotional responses from us that real celebrity snapshots do?

Take a peek.

BP

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