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Brain Pickings

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No Rim Kiss Needed

Who knew we were into basketball.

BIG MAN BIG DREAM

The one and only Dwight Howard, all 6 feet, 11 inches, 270 pounds of him, preps and plots for this year’s Slam Dunk Contest. The bounce-off-the-backboard dunk is sick.

The dude means business…

BP

New Ways of Doing

Extreme fathers, liberating stuff that won’t get you arrested, constraining stuff that’ll liberate you, a 30-pound lump, couture with a conscience, why spices are hot, how the Germans do it, and where to find the world’s most available man.

FATHER’S EYE

AlisonWe don’t like contrived adages. Which is why we have a really hard time swallowing “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” But, somehow, it’s the only thing that springs to mind while looking, hypnotized and stunned, at Jack Radcliffe’s photoseries Alison.

The passionate photographer took the usual new parent excitement over photographing his firstborn to unusual heights. Over the course of 30 years, he stole candid photos of his daughter, Alison, capturing anything from pre-school ballet practice to scary-makeup, grumpy-faced, cigarette-swinging teen angst to peace-of-mind-exuding adulthood.

The camera became a part of our relationship, necessitating in me an acceptance, a quietness.” ~ Jack Radcliffe

Beyond being an amazing exercise in being part of his daughter’s life without judgment or censorship, the project also gave Radcliffe a profound appreciation and understanding of human relationships in all of their extremities, intimacies and fluidity.

See what he saw — it’ll be worth it even if it extracts from you only a fraction of the rich emotion that so clearly inspired it.

IMAGE REIMAGINED

And while we’re exploring the rich emotional world of visual media, how about something to make the exploration experience itself richer? We have an official favorite Firefox add-on: PicLens. It’s designed to transform your web image browsing into a fully immersive 3D experience, both stunning and functionally efficient.

PicLensWhenever you search for images on Google, Yahoo, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, MySpace and more, PicLens turns your screen into an “interactive wall” on which you can drag, zoom, click, scroll and just awe at your search results. There’s even a search box within the interface that lets you search the web for images right in the 3D view.

Our favorite feature: say you do a Google image search for “brain.” The traditional way, you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results sprawled across hundreds of thousands of pages. Who has the time and the patience for clicking “NEXT” 100 times? Well, not someone with PicLens: because in PicLens, all the resulting images show up in the endless 3D wall, which you can just keep scrolling through until you spot exactly what you need.

Fast, fun, and incredibly liberating. Available for both Mac and PC.

PICTURELESS PICTURE BOOK

But, hey, don’t let the absence of image stop you from having a rich visual experience. It didn’t stop photographer Michael David Murphy. In 2004, he took a trip to Ethiopia, but was forbidden from bringing a camera — in a lot of Muslim countries, photography is shunned, especially if it entails photographing women. So he found himself in a curious new world full of compelling image, but unable to capture it.

Until he discovered words, that is. Driven by the burning need to capture (and aren’t all great discoveries kindled by a burning need?), he came up with Unphotographable — a collection of missed opportunities, moments he was unable to photograph, a “catalog of exceptional mistakes.” He lives in literary sin, but his endless run-on strings of simple words are Shakespearean in their conceptual impact.

unphotographable.png

Besides the originality of the concept, we love how it fails at the failure to capture — because, as a reader, you can’t not build an image in your mind’s eye. Call it human imagination. Call it visual assembly. But, really, it’s just that same old proxy photography our brains are wired for, the kind inherent to all storytelling.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

THE OTHER ECO-TRASH CONNECTION

No more Filthadelphia. As of 2008, Philly is sporting its very first BigBelly solar-powered garbage compactor at the corner of 36th and Chestnut, courtesy of University of Pennsylvania’s continued push for sustainability. (Penn is already one of the largest buyers of wind energy on the East Coast and, at 27%, gets more of its power from wind than any other higher-education entity in North America — possibly the world.)

Posing like a regular big trash can, the BigBelly has a 30-watt solar panel on its top that charges the battery powering the compactor. From there, it compresses the whole bellyful of trash into a single 30-pound lump. (Which happens to be how much trash the average American produces per week.) That way, waste management folks need to take far fewer trips to empty it — a traditional bin of the same capacity in that location would have to be emptied 3-4 times per day, while this friendly chubs only takes 3 trips per week.

truck.jpgEight times the efficiency comes with ten times the coolness: the BigBelly is equipped with WiFi, which it uses to send cleaning folk a signal once it’s full. And in case it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia, BigBelly needs just one day of sunlight to power it for the whole week.

Sure, it may come with a $5,000 price tag. And we may wish everyone just recycled everything. And we may, for that matter, hold our breath until all man-made materials were recyclable and non-toxic. But we have to applaud a step in the right direction when we spot one — and given that American garbage trucks alone consume over 20 million gallons of fuel per week, the BigBelly is a pretty gigantic step.

GREEN AND GORGEOUS

Okay, so sustainability doesn’t have to reek — it gets a lot more glamorous than garbage. Just take what went down the other day at the opening of New York Fashion Week.

Top-notch designers joined the Earth Pledge by sending designs made from recycled, renewable, reusable, organic, non-polluting fabrics down the FutureFashion runway.

Whether it’s organic cotton in Jeffrey Chow or hemp in Derek Lam, the collections were anything but granola, ranging from street wear to evening couture — organic wool, bamboo, corn-based fibers, recycled biopolymers and all.

We won’t judge how much of it is bandwagoning and greenwashing. We’re just glad fashion consumers are being educated about the options out there, about the big ocean of difference that all the little drops of choices add up to.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifWhile we don’t like to call ourselves “trend-hunters” (because it sounds just sooo untrendy…), we do like to throw a prediction out every once in a while. And now is one such once. This one is about nutrition science and health trends.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen our share of “super-foods.” Soy. Green tea. Pomegranate. Acai. Those were the antioxidant powerhouses. And that’s before we even get to the flavonoids in red wine and chocolate. Or the heart-saving, cholesterol-reducing omega-3’s in fish and nuts. After each super-food reached a tipping point in both science and social buzz, you’d see it pop up on the ingredients label, then move up-front-and- center on the packaging of any food that could claim even a molecule.

spices.jpgRecently, more and more research has emerged on the powerful health benefits of various spices, from some shared attributes like high antioxidant content, cancer-fighting potency and antibacterial, to the specific health benefits of each. (The irony, of course, is that all these herbs and spices have been recognized and used for their medicinal properties for centuries in various Asian, African, European and South American cultures, who most likely arrived at them the old-school way: trial and error. But we had to wait for that exact same process to be performed in our fancy-shmancy research labs, published in our pompous peer-reviewed medical journals, and regurgitated for us by the mass media. And now we’re eating it all up.)

There’s cinnamon, found to keep blood sugar in check. Cayenne pepper, which improves blood flow, fights heart disease and wards off headaches. Ginger, a powerful digestion aid and a killer of ovarian cancer cells. Garlic, with its strong antibiotic properties and protective value against heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. The latest super-spice: turmeric. The orange-yellow powder, better known to us common folk as an ingredient in those delish Indian curries, contains curcuminoids — active ingredients now recognized for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties, which in turn help fight cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. We could go on, but there’s a bigger point here.

And the point is that medicinal super-spices — and we stand by this one with enormous conviction — are the next big nutrition trend. They’ll soon be popping up in everything from beverages to cereals to energy bars and more. We’ll go work on our toldja-so dance now.

FORM, FUNCTION AND FILLET MIGNON

All that food talk got us hungry. And since we’re multitaskers at heart, it’s hard not to appreciate the brilliant concept of the Cook-N-Dine grill tables. Combining a table and a flameless grill, they offer a perfect fusion of appliance and furniture, of German utilitarianism and Japanese design sensibility.

Beneath the sleek German stainless steel surface lie three concentric functional circles. The flameless grill, in the middle, heats up to 450 degrees quickly, then the innermost part sinks down to collect any cooking juices. Once cooking is done, it rises back up. And the outermost dining area stays cold all throughout.

They come in various shapes and sizes, you can even install one on your bar-top or order a custom design. Pretty nifty, to the point of fully justifying its $1,600 price tag.

PLEASE STAY ONLINE

And speaking of upgrading old-school stuff and simplifying by multitasking, what better candidate than the familiar experience of a doctor’s appointment, complete with the 40-minute average wait time, the mounds of paperwork, the rude staff, and the germy waiting area? Dr. Jay Parkinson believes it doesn’t have to be that way. And he means business.

Dr. JayThe good doctor is the world’s first online-only-based physician who makes house calls and house calls only. His “office” is a website that looks more RGA than MD. And his credentials are as solid as the best of those found on brick-and- mortar walls.

But under the clean, Applesque design lies amazing functionality — the doc makes it all look so simple and effortless, from enrolling as a patient to reaching him anytime, any way you desire. (He’s always available on cell phone, email, IM, and MSN messenger.) And if you’re uninsured, he does some simple math for you to showcase how his service isn’t just better, it’s also much cheaper.

The doc is so progressive that he even deserted his traditional WordPress blog, deeming the concept too outdated and unsuitable for his mobile, tech-driven lifestyle. Instead, he moved to Tumblr where he can post via email, cell phone and IM.

At the very least, even if you’re insured and happily lugging yourself across waiting rooms, checking out his site will give you an even deeper understanding of (and contempt for) the devastating, penny-sucking bureaucracies of the medical industry. Sicko that.

BP

SPECIAL: Because It Is

A convergence of heart, mind and music, intensely driven to change the process of change itself. If there ever was a promised land, this is its frontier.

SONGS OF CHANGE

We rarely get inspired by celebrities or politics or mass movements of any sort. Which is why we’re even more adamant about sharing this particular piece of inspiration.

After Barack Obama‘s New Hampshire primary night speech, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas found himself captivated, inspired and ready to exorcise his overwhelming disappointment with the “unfair, backwards, upside down, unbalanced, untruthful, corrupt” process of the last election…in a positive, pro-active way.

So he called up a ton of his celebrity friends and created this truly moving video based on Obama’s speech.

We’ll just say that in this overwhelmingly celebrity-driven, superficial culture, it’s both tremendously inspiring and humbling to see celebrities singing back vocals, literally and metaphorically, to something much bigger and more powerful, to a movement and an ideology that can forever change minds, culture and society at large.

So vote, will.ia?

BP

Unexpected Sources

Rippers, sonic cartilage, aesthetic agendas, how to continent-hop without planet-trampling, why peanuts can help you in bed, and what artisan breads have to do with art. Welcome to the Unexpected Sources issue.

SOUNDTRACK TO THE TIMES

lastfm.pngWe hate to harp on about Last.fm. Ah, who are we kidding — we love to. Because it’s that great. And if for some unbeknownst reason you weren’t sold on the idea the first time (1.0 alert!), here’s a deal-maker: last week, Last.fm announced you can now play full-length tracks and albums on their website (or with the Last.fm player) for free, adding an extra kick of resolution to their ongoing “Social Music Revolution.”

Which is particularly awesome in light of The Last Ripper — a free-download app that saves Last.fm streams to mp3…and even downloads the album artwork. Unfortunately, the nifty app isn’t yet optimized for OS Leopart (which makes us grind our recently- upgraded teeth and grumpily curse one Mr. Jobs), but it must be a matter of time until they catch up.

Meanwhile, all these recent shifts in the music industry are a sign of a bigger trend that will likely forever change the music landscape. Decentralization of the industry is the obvious first step that’s already underway — just look at artist leaving major labels and releasing albums either on their own or with independent labels. Not to mention record labels started by companies whose main business has nothing to do with music. Heck, even MySpace has had its very own for over 2 years.

But beyond the obvious, there’s something much bigger going on.

OUT IS IN

So while on the subject of music revolutions, here’s a smaller but far more tangible (and audible) one. From family-run and world-distributed company Zelco comes a new kind of earphones that leave the bland iPod buds in the tech dust.

Outi earphones clip outside your ear, producing a totally immersive surround-sound music experience. And because they work via vibrations through the skin and cartilage, they don’t disturb people around you. At the same time, the different sound transmission doesn’t damage your hearing the way traditional in-ear pieces do. Plus, we dig them because you can still hear external sounds that enter your ear the regular way — which means we can bike in them but still be alerted by those lovely expletives drivers yell at us right before they door us.

Sure, they run a little steep: $110.00 plus shipping. But can you really put a price on your music experience?

FASHION CRYSTAL BALL

plus46.pngAnd speaking of mainstream-defying ventures, this month has really kicked it up on the fashion front. First we had the 10th annual SPIRIT OF FASHION — Berlin’s “other” Fashion Week that calls itself the “home of underground fashion.” The part-trade-show, part-new-talent- showcase is a unique scene-fair concept that draws audiences and buyers from all over Europe.

Then right now we’re witnessing Stockholm’s +46, possibly the biggest venue for up-and-coming designers. The unique platform bridges progressive fashion-makers with buyers, press, and other contacts, all cherry-picked through selective international standards. Which is why the shows manage to sport top-notch “freshion” (our word, mind you) designers like Original Penguin and Nikka New York. Too bad you’re missing it.

agenda.pngBut, hey, here’s a fair warning for something along the same lines happening stateside — AGENDA Trade Show, the fashion forum for up-and-coming streetwear designers, is coming up September 4-6 in San Diego. There, you can spot anything from garage-run labels to established elites (including favorites of ours like adidas, Ben Sherman, Converse, Le Tigre, PUMA, Reebok and more), all unified by a “higher level of design and aesthetic.”

If there ever was a weekend to really shape the cool kids’ wardrobe, this would be it. So indulge your inner trend-setter and check it out.

GREEN TO GO

And if you do decide to trek the world’s underground fashion shows, why not do it responsibly? Thanks to Sustainable Travel International, you can find out the exact environmental impact of your travel plans. In its 6th year, the non-profit is out to spread the sustainable tourism bug. And they’re making it a whole lot easier — you can explore their eco-directory of smart destinations, complete with hundreds of choices across every category, location and luxury level.

And here’s the coolest part — they recently partnered up with Continental Airlines and developed a precise carbon offset calculator for flights. You plug in your origin and destination, then it tells you just how many metric tons of carbon dioxide your journey is worth. But they don’t stop at bringing you down — you get four options for carbon offsetting projects you can donate to in the exact amount that would offset your flight’s impact, and you can do it all right there on the site.

Normally, we scoff at such umbrella-after-the-rain approaches that aim to compensate for rather than avoid altogether, but we can’t exactly bike across the Atlantic the way we do across town. So we’ll give these guys props for offering a solution. Plus, the 1.44 metric tons (TONS!) of CO2 our annual escapes to Europe produce kinda caught us frighteningly unawares.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifWe’ve heard our share of old wives’ health tales. Even our own grandmother used to say eating walnuts, which look like a brain, is actually good for your brain. We used to think perhaps the whole thing was some sort of riddle that helped your brain by means of exercising your gray matter.

Well, turns out Grandma was being completely literal — and right. Alternative health guru and public speaker Don Tolman has looked into some ancient health wisdoms in light of today’s scientific research.

In his Whole Food Signatures, he reveals a bunch of fruits, veggies and legumes with shapes analogous to the body parts whose function they boost. And although were tempted to take ours with a grain of salt, some extra research made us cut the NaCl from this data diet.

Take a carrot. Sliced, it looks like the pupil, iris and radiating lines of the human eye. We all know the orange sticks are so rich in beta-carotene they even lend their name to it. And — guess what — beta-carotene is essential for eye function: it’s converted to retinaldehyde (the formaldehyde form of vitamin A), whose name alone captures his oh-so-important role in retina health.

Or Grandma’s favorite, the walnut. It does look like the human brain, just as it does help it — walnuts are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (the unsaturated “good” kind of fat), which are essential for brain function and memory. You see, whether or not you sport a 6-pack, your brain is over 60% structural fat. Neurons and cell membranes are almost entirely made of fat. And they need to function properly in order for anything to go in and out. So next time someone calls you a fat head, say “Why, thank you, good sir!” and spit out an obscure factoid about the Chinese fire-bellied water toad.

Then there are peanuts and libido. We’ll refrain from the, um, back-end of this one.

But do check out Don’s entire list — although his research is a bit lacking, we enlisted our own biochemical knowledge and Google to confirm the stuff in more established sources. (Sorry, Wikipedia, no-go on this one.) To Grandma’s delight, it’s pretty much all based on real nutrition science and biochemistry.

STREET PICKINGS

Oh, can we count the ways we love Trader Joe’s. One of them has to do with the crew, who are so much smarter, funner and artsier than those elsewhere that we actually don’t feel right even referring to them as “cashiers.” This week, we have tangible proof — our local TJ’s is sporting the very first Trader Joe’s Art Show, turning one wall into a showcase of (actually really damn good) artwork by TJ staffers.

tjart.jpg

We, always the get-the-storyists, of course chatted up one of the artist, mostly because we were a little taken aback by all the “NOT FOR SALE” signs and wanted to know what the deal was. The artist (who shall remain unnamed) shrugged and looked down, muttering something along the not-our-decision lines.

Turns out, it’s something the Philly crew had wanted to do for quite some time now and were finally given permission (permission?!) by the big guns, who had also said they’d be able to sell the artwork. Except in the last minute, they took away the dangled fruit. Which we thought was a bit of a let-down from a company as typically cool as Trader Joe’s — but we can’t even begin to compare it to just how let down the artists themselves must be feeling.

Still, it’s a brilliant idea and the art is better than what we’ve seen on many of our First Friday rounds, so go check it out if you’re in Philly this month.

BP

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