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You Better Believe It

Why we drink, scandal!, the world’s most expensive clock, theft-worthy animation, what Radiohead and Goldfrapp have in common, and how diarrhea can save the planet.


Enough said.

Inspired by the ever-amusing Indexed blog — if you’re not already familiar, we strongly suggest you fix that cultural mistake ASAP.


The horror! The scandal! You know those annoying new “PC Pride” TV spots for Microsoft that attempted to shove the Seinfeld fiasco under the carpet? Well, an overzealous conspiracy theorist decided to look at the EXIF information of the campaign photos sent to the media — that’s the little piece of file information that shows what program the file was created in.

Guess what — those Microsoft ads were made on…gasp…a Mac. And if you think Microsoft and Crispin, their ad agency, have the relationship equivalent of a Catholic priest caught with his pants down at a gay bar, it gets worse. Turns out, Dell’s agency, Enfatico, did the exact same thing with their client’s campaign. Except in their case, those Macs were actually bought on the Dell dollar.

And just when we thought no one could out-whore-out the ever-irreverent Improv Everywhere…who actually revered quite quickly at the sight of corporate bling.

via Tribble Ad Agency


Speaking of Seinfeld, here’s something that sounds like one of Kramer’s ideas but is, in fact, completely real:

Corpus Chromophage

One of our heroes, brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking, has just unveiled the world’s strangest clock. Called

Chronophage, which means “time-eater,” the beastly time-keeper cost $2 million and was developed over 5 years in Cambridge’s Corpus Christi College by Dr. John Taylor, a renowned inventor and horologist.

Its shtick: It has no hands — time is displayed by a series of blue LED lights illuminating the 24-carat gold surface through various slits and lenses. The design itself was inspired by the work of legendary innovator John Harrison, who came up with the “grasshopper escapement” mechanism almost 300 years ago.

The clock is only accurate every five minutes, but is wired up to an electric motor that will keep it running for the next 25 years.

We’re fascinated by the idea of a device that captures the relativity of time and how its passage mercilessly eats away at our lives. That, and we like shiny things.

via BBC Technology


On the cool-LED-stuff note, we’re obsessed with chronophage art collective PIKA PIKA. They make abstract animation using LED flashlights, which “draw” an image by tracing its outline over and over. Their movement is recorded in a series of photographs using long exposures, which are then spliced together into an animated sequence.


In 2005, the team was invited to a conference, where they presented the back-end of how the animation worked. They noticed that the audience of people interested in the concept was incredibly diverse, so they came up with a way to make the animation more interactive and inclusive, recruiting audience members in its production.

PIKA PIKAToday, PIKA PIKA films are made by that audience: Each person gets a flashlight and becomes a part of the animation. The films have since traveled the world and won various awards across a number of art and film festivals.

So that’s where Sprint stole the idea from.


From one cool audience-made light-employing video to another: After Radiohead’s In Rainbows fan-made video contest, a Goldfrapp fan got inspired to animate the track “Lovely Head” from their first album.

It’s essentially a visualization of the sound data, with the lyrics superimposed, producing the visual equivalent of what we’d imagine goes on in one’s brain when listening to the track on psychedelic drugs.


It was made through a process that’s way over our head, which makes us dig it all the more. It also reminds us of binary data sculptor Paul Prudence his video stream data visualizations.

via Coudal


And since we’re getting into things way over our head, here’s something that blows everything else out of the water. Or, as it just so happens, out of the oil.

Plastic-Producing E. coli

Scientists have developed a new strain of that same pant-pooping E. coli bacterium that can make butanediol (BDO), the material used in stuff like spandex, car bumpers and plastic cups, from scratch. Which basically means they can make plastic without using oil or natural gas, taking a huge energy load off the current plastic production methods.

That’s what we call research-grant-justifying progress. (Unlike, say, the one that measured methane emissions from farting cows.)

Now, if they can only get them to make tacos…

via PSFK


Spotlight Series: Gimme Moore

Why P2P file-sharing can spell the demise of the Bush administration and how not to let American Idol take over the White House.


We’re doing something a little different today — because today is the day filmmaker-slash-activist Michael Moore’s latest movie, Slacker Uprising, comes out. (Plus, it’s a nice transition from last week’s themes of P2P revolutions and the current White House being easily mistaken for a potato.)

Slacker UprisingAnd just like us today, Moore is doing something different with this himself: He’s giving the movie away as a free download, making it the first major feature-length film to debut legally as a free internet download. In his typical convention-defying, sticking-it-to-the-man style, he’s offering not one but five ways to snag it — from iTunes and Amazon Digital downloads to a number of live streaming options.

He’s doing it for two reasons: To get the word out and thus further the film’s ultimate goal of getting more young voters out on November 4, and to thank all his supporters over the years with a free gift on the 20th anniversary of his first film, Roger & Me.

The film was shot over 42 days leading up to the 2004 election, when Moore toured 62 cities across America with the same mission: Turning out a record number of young voters, which he considers a success given young adults voted in greater numbers than they ever had historically, and the youth segment was the only demographic group Kerry won.

Slacker Uprising(We, on the other hand, are less generous with the acclaim for a year in which American Idol still received more votes than the presidential election — quite the eye-opener when the American public finds a marginally talented popster to be a better idol than the nation’s leader.)

So go download the movie or find a screening near you so you can rub elbows with like-minded potato-haters. (Heck, host one, even.)

And, um, go vote on November 4, mmmkay?


Globe-Trotting Goodness

The big picture gets bigger, P2P filesharing gets legal, why the Japanese are better smilers than us, what Kentucky and Lithuania have in common, and how to replace the White House with a potato.


Today, we tour the world of ideas by touring the world of, well, the world — and we start our cultural journey in France, with photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

His entire body of work comes from an incredibly inspired humanistic and planetarian perspective, but we’re particularly taken with his project Earth From Above, a collection of 500,000 breathtaking aerial photographs shot across 100 countries on 6 continents. (You may recall our fascination with aerial photography from the Birdseye Visionaire special issue a while back.)

Each photograph in Earth From Above includes a caption by an expert on sustainable development, making the bigger picture all the clearer: the world is a precious, fragile being whose beauty and heritage we must try our hardest to preserve.

In Holland, for example, chemicals have seeped into the water and are causing a deterioration of the soil, endangering the 5-century-old tradition of flowering bulbs and The Netherlands’ astonishing crop of over 800 tulip varieties.

In 2005, Yann Arthus-Bertrand founded, a nonprofit aimed at promoting and educating about sustainable development across the world through various creative projects.

Our favorite: the Alive Exhibition, a collection of stunning photographs that raise awareness about biodiversity and the need to look beyond our own species in caring for the planet.


Next, we move a little north towards those tulip-covered lands of Holland, where we take a look at up-and-coming Dutch indie rock band Silence Is Sexy.

Besides loving their sound — it’s distinctly unique, yet somehow makes us think of what would happen if Thom Yorke sang to the beats of Coldplay with the lyrical sensibility of Vampire Weekend — we have tremendous respect for their industry-revolutionizing choice of distribution.

We’ve long been singing the same old song about how the music industry’s business model is undergoing massive tectonic shifts. Now, Silence Is Sexy are joining our choir — their new album, This Ain’t Hollywood, was just released as a free, legal download on peer-to-peer torrent network Mininova.

Mininova actually has a powerful, free Content Distribution service aimed at doing just that: Helping indie artists and filmmakers discover new audiences, and helping musicologists discover up-and-coming acts.

Take that, Steve Jobs.

via Mininova Blog


In honor of brilliant Japanese director Nagi Noda, who passed away at the pitiful age of 35 last week, we bring you a more obscure piece of Japanese culture you probably never knew about: Japanese smileys. These little weirdos are Japan’s answer to the sideways smileys that we all know (and often abuse), invented by Scott Fahlman in 1982.

Japanese SmileysUnlike those, Japanese smileys are read upright and their method of interpretation has a stronger focus on the expression of the eyes — which makes a lot of sense, since we remember from behavioral psych class that much of human emotion is indicated by the muscles surrounding the eye, just like we’re wired to distinguish a genuine smile — also known as a Duchenne smile — from a fake one through the presence (or absence) of those small crows-feet wrinkles in the outer corner of the eyes.

Most Japanese smileys can be created with a Western keyboard and your usual UTF-8 character set. For ones you can start texting to your friends immediately, check out this list. Meanwhile, a few of our favorites:

(^_^) Hi

(#^_^#) Blushing

(-¡-)y-~~~~ Smoke a cigarette

((+_+)) Ummmh

o(^-^o)(o^-^)o o(^-^o)(o^-^)o Dancing

(^_^)/~~ Bye

via Google Blogoscoped


Are feeling all worldly and cultured yet? Don’t let it get to your head — let the good folks of Language Trainers Group show you who’s who with the Accent Game, an interactive quiz that puts your knowledge of different accents to the test: Folks from across the globe read Rudyard Kipling to you, then ask you to guess where they come from.

It’s harder than you think — take it from us and our ego-devastating score. Think you know a Finish accent from a Norwegian one, or Lithuanian from Estonian?

Don’t think you’ll get away with just the country, either. After each correct guess, you’re drilled on the country region the person comes from — Kentucky vs. Chicago may be on the easy side, but let’s see you do Cape Town vs. Pretoria or York vs. Birmingham.

And if you’re reaching for the map just reading this, shame on you and your middle school geography teacher.

via Very Short List


Eifel TowerWe’ll wrap up with an ultimate culture-crosser: Since 1999, London-born, Berlin-based photographer Michael Hughes has been trekking the world and dabbling in the simple wonders of perception — his collection Souvenirs playfully replaces some of the world’s greatest landmarks with their toy replicas using nothing but a camera and some strategic perspective.

In much of the collection, Hughes’ subtle and not-so-subtle snark comes through — like the image of the Trabant car model, a brand synonymous with all the ills that lurked behind the Iron Curtain, seemingly bursting through the remains of the Berlin Wall.

Souvenirs is part of an ongoing book project, so we’ll be sure to keep an eye on Hughes. Meanwhile, we got the sudden urge to go photo-replace the White House with a potato.

via Very Short List


Hidden Music Top 3

Dr. House gets down, web design goes hip hop, and your salad performs at Carnegie Hall.


For the most part, we have nothing but contempt for today’s tabloid-driven, paparazzi-infested, mind-blowingly superficial celebrity culture. So when we stumble across celebrities who surprise us with true talent and unexpected substance, we can’t help digging.

Plus, we love House.

We’re talking, of course, about The Band from TV — a multi-talented lineup of Hollywood A-listers (and, okay, some reality show B-listers) including drummer Greg Grunberg (of Heroes, Alias and Felicity fame), guitarist James Denton (Desperate Housewives), vocalists Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives), Bonnie Somerville (Cashmere Mafia), and Bob Guiney (The Bachelor), violinist Jesse Spencer (House), plus a few more musically talented actors, and our favorite: Dr. House himself, the ever-talented, agelessly hot Hugh Laurie on the keyboards.

These guys rock it out on stage like you wouldn’t believe it. And although they don’t have any full-length studio albums yet, you can catch them on the House soundtrack — for the ultimate Laurie in all his glorie, you know.

Any profit they make goes to a number of charities that hit close to home for some of the band members and their families. (Greg Grunberg’s son has epilepsy and Teri Hatcher is living with lifelong childhood trauma.)

We recently heard BFTV’s mean cover of the The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” — and we’re believers.


Musical talent hides where you least expect it. Just ask Mo Serious, the Poetic Prophet a.k.a. SEO Rapper — he’s not your average code-wrangling designer.

He’ll teach you all about CSS, web standards and proper design practice with lovably cheesy hip-hop beats and rhymes delivered straight from the trenches of your typical cubicle farm.

Because, you know, ain’t no street cred in rapping about the ghetto if you don’t live there, yo.

Gotta give it to the man for original lyrics like “Everyone will wanna follow you like Twitter” and “client satisfied like they eating on a Snicker.”

Also great: the two seemingly unfazed cubicle ladies going about their cubicle day in the background.


Ok, so we’ve learned music can be in your TV and in your CSS. One more place it can be: your kitchen. Enter the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, a symphony performing solely on vegetables.

Vegetable Orchestra: RemixedCarrot flutes, pumpkin basses, leek violins, leek-zucchini-vibrators, cucumberophones, celery bongos, you name it (and eat it), they play it. The orchestra, founded 10 years ago in — you guessed it — Vienna plays across a number of genres: contemporary music, beat-oriented house tracks, experimental electronic, freestyle jazz, noise (we can see that one), dub, and more.

We must say their music is rather… interesting. (Just a heads-up: our 8th grade English teacher used to say that “interesting is what you call an ugly baby” — we concur on this one.)

And while we encourage you to look for yourself, we’ll take our asparagus grilled for now.


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