Brain Pickings

Page 1423

Living Design

Ornithology is the new Adobe, happy misers, Satan, Art Deco geeks, Kenneth Cole, what Whitney Houston and monsters have in common besides Bobby Brown, how the sun can save Africa, and why inflation is a good thing.

NEST OF ART

Until recently, the main criticism of the Internet’s capabilities was that it was didn’t allow for fast and precise image editing online, at least not at a beyond-red-eye-removal professional level. No more.

AviaryEnter Aviary, a brand new suite of high-level Internet applications “for people who create” — smart, useful stuff for pretty much any kind of artist. All the tools are free, aim to inspire collaboration among artists, and come with cool bird names. Although still in Beta and invite-only, you can request an invitation — we got ours pretty quickly, and we’ll just say it was more than worth the wait.

The tools span the uber-creative, the geeky and the biz-minded, making for a comprehensive suite that helps create, distribute, manage and sell creative products. The creative side alone is impressive enough: there’s Phoenix, the image editor; color swatches and palette creator Toucan; algorithm-based pattern generator Peacock; Raven for vector editing; Hummingbird, the 3D modeller and skinner; Myna, an audio editor; music generator Roc; Starling, for video editing; Owl, the desktop publishing layout editor; Penguin, a word processor for creative writers; painting simulator Pigeon; Tern, the terrain generating minitool; font editor Horus; and Woodpecker, a smart image resizing minitool.

Geeks will have a field day with Eagle, a smart online app that reads the pixel patterns in an image and is able to identifies complex data about it, like which specific camera it originally came from.

ToucanAnd because 2.0 creativistas want nothing to do with the “starving artist” stereotype that haunts their traditional brethren, Aviary provides just the right kind of tools to propagate the business of creativity: Rookery is a free, unlimited-traffic file system network accessible to anyone for data storage and management. It’s also what powers Aviary‘s file search engine. Hawk is a marketplace for digital content, allowing artists to showcase and sell their work. And Crane is a custom image product creator.

Here’s the biggie: unlike other online image editing tools, Aviary is layer-based (like Photoshop), far more powerful than any image-processing web software, supports limitless revision, and has an entire suite of apps that communicate with each other.

Something else huge for artists: Aviary helps with copyright and royalties, tracking — forever — all sources used in a work and where a work is used by others. And that’s something even Creative Commons can’t claim. Which, come to think of it, is not surprising given Aviary is the brain child of 12 international top-notch artists who know all the joys and perils of creativity inside and out.

Phoenix screenshot

Once you get invited, you can access Phoenix — the first of the tools being made available to Beta testers. All the rest, though, are flying in soon. We’re still pinching ourselves, but it does seem to all be real — you can find out more about the individual tools on the product blog. And, speaking of blogs, we love their Idea Blog where different members of Aviary‘s team get to dish on various design and creativity topics — like this particularly refreshing take on the foundations of good design.

Enough from us, just go experience the instinctive self-pinching for yourself.

UNTRIVIA

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Here’s a blast from our psych class past: the “misery is not miserly” phenomenon — the tendency to spend more money in negative emotional states, particularly sadness — is now confirmed by a new study. Powered by researchers from four academia big-wigs (Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and Pittsburgh University), the study exposed some participants to a sadness-inducing video and others to a “neutral” nature video. They then asked the subjects to spend any amount of their $10 participation incentive on a reusable sports water bottle. Here’s what they found:

  • The sad group spent an average of $2.11
  • The neutrals spent $0.56
  • The sad group used significantly more self-referential expressions (“I,” “me,” “my,” “myself,” etc.) when writing a brief essay on the seen video

What explains the glaring difference? Turns out, sadness makes people enter a “self-focus” state: an insecurity-driven self conception that leads us to believe we and the stuff we own are worth little. So, we’re willing to spend more to make our stuff appear more valuable, thereby making ourselves feel better.

Even more interestingly, this phenomenon occurs with pretty much zero awareness — subjects, despite the clear data suggesting otherwise, vigorously denied the video-induced sad emotions had anything to do with their spending amount. So it’s something different from retail therapy altogether, wherein we consciously try to make ourselves feel better with a, say, Mac Air. (Yes, we do have a tendency to go overboard — we must be watching all the sad sap of the cinematic world.)

What’s our point? Stay happy, stay rich. Meh, easier said than done — who are we kidding, it’s back to the Apple Store tonight…

THE DEVIL’S IN THE RETAIL

If you do anything online, you’ve come to appreciate the importance of tags — all those coveted keywords and labels can make or break your content’s success. “Tags” actually take their name from the eponymous little things that hang off various types of merchandise in the offline world. Fashion retail, in particular, is one place where offline tags are nearly as important as the 2.0 kind in selling stuff.

We’ve long been fascinated with label-tags on clothing, ranging from the plain bad to the plain to the mediocre to the brilliant. So we’ve been collecting ones that are exceptional in some way — a good design, a clever use of materials, an unexpected touch, you name it. And here are a few of our favorites, in no particular order of preference, plus the reasons we heart them. (Click the image to magnify.)

Tags

  1. adidas — call us geeks, but when we buy performance apparel we like to know exactly what makes it…well… perform. This little 6-page booklet managed to crunch in all the geeky info while keeping the design super sleek and adidasey. The free 3-week trial for professional online training was just the cherry on top.
  2. Hydraulic Jeans — they may not believe in search optimization, but their tags have that grungy-cool feel of hard cardboard, twine and old-school type. Bonus points for the feather-filled sampler bubble on a down jacket.
  3. Buffalo Jeans — with an edgy delicacy you can expect from a European designer, this tag for David Bitton’s denim line says it all. Too bad you can’t feel the canvas-meets-paper texture.
  4. Tyte Jeans — some of the boldest use of colors we’ve seen in a while, plus we’re suckers for non-plastic tag strings.
  5. GLO Jeans — not quite our taste here, but we have to give them props for doing something that speaks to their target of bubbly teenage girls and 35-year-olds who like to think of themselves as bubbly teenage girls in lieu of better aspirations.
  6. 7 for all mankind — boring colors, sure, but the design is clean and the texture is its own beast: a fascinating contrast between the soft matte canvas of the tag and the glossy satin string.
  7. Cosmopolitan — what better way to play off the brand name than by paying tribute to the ultimate cosmopolitan accessory, the credit card? The plastic tag, complete with those vibrant colors, is just the kind of thing a girl would have a really hard time throwing out.
  8. Jou Jou — despite the contrived and illegible type, the tag challenges the conventions of size, shape and material. The hard-canvas texture and the thick string are a refreshing touch.
  9. Tapemeasure — never mind being sold off by Liz Claiborne, never mind being unfindable online. These guys are certainly not never-minding tag design. Easily our favorite here, there’s something intangibly French about the red-white-and-black, super-clean design. Also of note: the matte texture embossed with tiny matte circles. Best touch: the miniature tapemeasure tag string. Genius.
  10. GAP — say what you will of the (RED) project, but we love the oversized metal hoop on this otherwise slim, soft tag and the understated color design. More street c(red) than the usual blah GAP tags.
  11. BONGO — neat play of space and borders, complete with a super-hard, metallic red surface that feels strangely glam-rock.
  12. Industry — yep, those are real stitches right on the cardboard and that’s real fabric. We have to respect a break from the conventions of materials segregation, but then again they’re French — it’s a whole nother conventions ballpark anyway.
  13. Levi’s — ah, the mother of all denim. There’s something strangely comforting about a pair of Levi’s, so it’s only natural the tag would exude that same vibe of approachable timelessness. A soft fabric tag with just the right amount of fringe, complete with subtle graphics, clean type, and a hung with a delicate string.
  14. YUKA Paris — we’re not crazy about the serif font, but the round black tag with silver type has a luxurious feel that really captures the brand’s signature heavy woven-silk fabrics.
  15. HOLDEN Outerwear — another favorite, and another shameful underestimation by image. The beauty of this tag is in the tactile experience of etched graphics on hard matte cardboard, although the color choice is elegant enough to be its own delight.
  16. Ymi Jean Co. — again, not exactly our taste, but we have to respect the bold use of dark denim and white lace, and in a tag of all places. Fresh. Young. Like the brand’s product.

So next time you go shopping or get a gift, stop and smell the…tag. We don’t care much about the Devil, but we do know the good stuff is always in the details.

HIGH-CONCEPT DESIGN GEEKERY

Design Museum If retail is too low-brow for you, you’ll love the Design Library at the London Design Museum. It’s a tremendous, get-lost-in- it-for-hours resource on architects, technologies and designers featured in the museum. There’s a lengthy profile on each designer, complete with images, interviews and biographies that can put both Wikipedia and your fashion textbook to shame.

You can find designers ranging from the obscure but great to the vaguely familiar to the ultra-famous, from product designer Tord Boontje to Eileen Gray, the mother of Art Deco, to the needs-no-introduction Christian Dior.

Go, dig in, brag.

SOCIAL DESIGN

And while we’re dabbling in fashion design, let us simultaneously dabble in what we call “thought design.” Take Kenneth Cole’s new Awareness Blog — a long-time-coming forum for the same issues the socially-conscious designer has stood for in the past 25 years. Out of Kenneth Cole Productions and Electric Artists, the blog churns out compelling daily takes on issues like politics, human rights, well-being, sustainability and more. Through them all runs a thread of being just the right amount of uncomfortable to really make you think.

The contributors are all big thinkers from various industries and walks of life, including the designer himself and the founder of our favorite magazine, GOOD. And it’s not just talk — it urges readers to get involved with one (or more) of 20 organizations that span everything from AIDS research to disaster relief to mentoring.

There’s also a YouTube channel chock-full of teaser videos united by the tagline-turned-platform “We all walk in different shoes.” Words that scream “word.” Refreshing to see this kind of initiative in society, and especially refreshing to see it coming from one of the most unscrupulous, whatever-it-takes industries: fashion.

THE JOY OF UGLY

Daily MonsterIf you find yourself overwhelmed by the monstrosities of the real world, why not take a break with monsters more likely to delight than derail? That’s exactly what you’ll find on Daily Monster — the talent-child of German-born, California-based graphic designer Stefan G. Bucher.

Each daily stop-motion film shows Stefan creating a new monster — he starts with a paint-dipped toothbrush, swashes a bit on a blank page, then squirts some high-pressure air on it to create a shape-defining splatter. Then, he attacks it with various drawing tools — pencil, Sharpie, fine-point pen, color marker — and draws his monster out of that shape.

Daily Monster #161Currently on monster # 161, he’s been going at it since November 2006 when Monster # 01 emerged from the fun-meets-darkness abyss of creativity.

It’s the kind of cool stuff you end up doing only after having done stuff across all levels of coolness: lived in Oregon, worked in advertising, designed album covers for Whitney Houston and Sting. And he must be doing something right — there’s a book coming out, plus the monsters have had cameos in Business Week and Wired. And, of course, Brain Pickings.

Update: The book, 100 Days of Monsters, is out — and it’s just as fantastic as we expected it to be.

SUN SNATCHER

When gadget design meets lifestyle design meets the design of Earth’s future, it’s a beautiful thing. Which is why we dig SOLIO — the universal “hybrid” charger. “Hybrid” because its powerful internal battery can be charged by plugging in the conventional socket way or by exposing the 3 glorious solar panels to the sun. And universal because it can charge anything — an iPod, a GPS, a digital camera, a cell phone, a game device, a BlackBerry and more.

Sure, it’s an enormous lifestyle treat — pop it in your hiking backpack, in your beach bag, in your carry-on to really take advantage of that window seat, in your city-dwelling purse…the possibilities are oh-so-indulgent.

But where SOLIO can really make a difference, we think, is in the third world. In poverty-ridden, infrastructure-deprived areas with no electricity, where the ability to boil water alone can save thousands of lives by preventing many an infectious disease. Where the presence of a single lightbulb could increase quality of life tremendously, help stave off crime, and extend agricultural and manufacturing productivity beyond the limits of daylight.

The simplest models run under $100, which is significantly less than many questionably effective humanitarian aid efforts spend per piece.

Then, of course, there’s the environmental angle. It’s pretty obvious — more solar power means less electricity means Al Gore likes us — so we no need to preach to the choir. Point is, SOLIO is as nifty a gadget — and lifestyle aid — as they get. We diggidy dig big time.

HIPS AHOY

Our product pick of the week — form (and boy oh boy what form it is) meets function. Salute the inflatable bikini life jacket — beyond its obvious drown-prevention capacity, it also ensures you’re the first one saved by that hunky lifeguard trampling children and little old ladies as he beelines for you.

‘Nuff said.

BP

Get Stuff Done

Feigned sobriety, unopposable thumbs, mornings done right, obsessive winking, sweet-talk for hire, how we’re always right, why red is better than apple, and whose rack we were ogling while almost getting arrested.

ART OF THE HOW

We’re inept. Or at least that’s what the recent surge in how-to sites and services is telling us. But it’s okay, because we are indeed inept. About some stuff, that is — you know, that whole the-more-you- know-the-more-you-don’t-know thing that comes with the curious mind — so it’s great to have resources on how anything is done.

HowcastOur favorite so far: Howcast, the brain child of ex-Googlers and YouTubers. It’s user- generated content curated by the editorial eye to bring you super useful how-to videos on anything from chilling a 6-pack in 3 minutes, to lying and getting away, to making your bathroom eco-friendly. Better yet, it’s all high-quality and free. And even better yet, the Howcast vision is all about giving emerging filmmakers a chance to get experience and exposure, then fusing it all with content distribution and smart advertising. We dig.

Then there’s Quamut (Latin for “how to”) — an enormous how-to library, complete with printable charts written by experts and reviewed by fact-checkers. A Geekipedia, if you will, that’s both super accurate and super useful. Quamut comes from Barnes & Noble, which means, of course, there’s a price sticker somewhere. But it’s not too bad — you can view everything online for free, you just need to suck up $2.95 if you want to download a PDF of something. And if you’re really compelled to go old-school with all the bells and whistles, you can scurry over to an actual Barnes & Noble store and cough up $5.95 for a laminated copy of select Quamuts. (This is where we point, laugh and remind you of Howcast.)

Finally, let’s not forget the power of collaboration and popular wisdom: wikiHow is a wiki-based resource where users can contribute to the how-to’s of various subjects. Think of it as collaborative how-to manual that’s much like a hands-on Wikipedia. It’s got a Creative Commons license, comes in 6 languages, and has a decidedly philanthropic feel with a vision of improving quality of life through practical knowledge.

So if you ever find yourself wallowing in ineptitude, do check out one of these great resources. Now we’re off to learning how to make a water gun alarm clock for those can’t-get-out-of-bed mornings. (Which are NOT due to not having seen the very amusing yet informative “How To Fake Being Sober” video.)

DEMOCRACY OF THUMB

And speaking of popular wisdom, Rules of Thumb offers all sorts of nifty, well, rules of thumb, each rated on a usefulness scale (1-10) by the populus. The whole thing is searchable and browsable by subject. And we dig their definition of “rule of thumb” — turning information you have into information you need.

More importantly, we dig the fact that what they’re doing seems to aim at taking the error of many out of the whole time-tested “trial and error” paradigm by learning from the error of a few.

That’s where we make our very lame indeed pun about giving it the thumbs-up. What, we held off for an entire paragraph.

WHAT YOU FEEL IS WHAT YOU GET

And of course, getting stuff done has to always start with getting in the right mindset. Which often involves starting the day off on the right foot — and what righter foot than a feel-good outlook?

feelgood.pngThat’s where the feel good initiative comes in. It’s a very simple, very smart concept: every day, there’s a new song uploaded along with some quick extra stuff (mostly artist’s website). That’s it. The idea is you start your morning there and listen to the daily song along with your coffee and newspaper. Some days, the song will be a response to a previous day’s. All days, it’ll be inspiring, refreshing and sure to put you in the right mood to face the day.

And if you’re not the surprise kind of person, if you have a specific craving for a song you already know, there’s Songerize — a supremely basic site where you just type in the name of an artist and/or song, and it just pulls it up and starts playing. Brilliant.

It’s the stripped-down version of the also brilliant SeeqPod music search engine, there to make your music wishes come true at the click of a mouse. Plus, it actually works — it found all but one of the tracks we tested, including stuff on the off-mainstream side (like our latest obsession, Kate Nash). So what are you craving to hear right now?

STALKER 2.0

It starts innocently enough. You need to look up a friend’s mailing address. But then before you know it, you’re digging up dirt on your ex, your “good girl” coworker, your nasty brother in law, and worse yet, you get all crazy-eyed and jittery with excitement about it. If you don’t like that image, proceed with caution. And if you’re screaming “GIMME!,” indulge. Now onto the goodies:

There’s the everyone-knows-this White Pages reverse phone number lookup — great for those could-be-mysterious-could-be- creepy missed calls. Then there’s Zaba Search, the free people search that digs up all sorts of public info on your searchee, including address and date when the address was recorded — so when you get multiple listings for someone, you can spot their current residence. Good idea, but didn’t work for many of the people we tried. (What, it was research…)

Which is how we get to our favorite: Wink. Wink searches over 330 million people across pretty much all existing social networks — on many of which people list their full name, address, school, workplace, interests and more.

And you can search by even more variables: full name, username (love this one), city, state, zip, country, province, career, tags, even keywords based on the person’s interests. We tried it and it’s no joke how much our friends reveal online — we were able to find every single person we searched, most complete with mugshots. And Wink doesn’t just search regular folks. It’s integrated with news services, so you can get the latest scoop on your favorite celeb.

So next time you get all hot and bothered over your MySpace conversation with cutehottie4u, you can track down the 43-year-old computer programmer typing away the hot stuff from his cube in Ohio. And if you get all Wink-obsessed, you can get their plugin and search straight from your browser anytime, or download the Wink widget, which lets you tell people where you are online all the time — particularly useful if you’re trying to promote yourself in the digital world. Better yet, you can create a Wink profile for yourself to really manage your online presence and how it’s presented to the world.

Smart, nifty, and oh-so-handy. We love.

REPUTATION REMEDY

But what happens if you just Winked yourself and found some, um, less than presentable stuff? Worse yet, what if there’s a public record of your careless youth somewhere on the web where you have no control? That’s when DefendMyName comes in — think of it as a reputation management program that specializes in removing negative listings about you and replacing them with good stuff. Using search optimization and a few other strategy, DMN promises to mitigate negative blog posts, customer reviews, news stories and other public info about you or your brand.

Hands down, we’re not crazy about the idea — whatever happened to transparency and the whole authenticity shebang? We get enough of politics as is. But we gotta give it to those guys for finding a clever, however ethically questionable, way to exploit the combination of people’s propensity to fuck up and the ever-growing power of the Internet.

UNTRIVIA

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Some time ago, we made a big bold claim that consumer reviews were actually the real beginning of social networking. And now, thanks to the good folks at eMarketer, we have even more proof for just how much importance consumers place on each others’ opinions and recommendations when shopping. Turns out…

  • …22% of consumers always read reviews, 43% do so most of the time, 33% read them occasionally, and only 2% never do.
  • …the majority (68%) require 4 or more reviews before they make a decision to buy, and 22% won’t settle for less than 8
  • …64% place peer reviews on their wish list for all websites, above anything else, including special offers and coupons
  • …product reviews by peers are the most frequently visited (55%) product research tool, trumping comparison charts (22%), expert reviews (21%) and shared shopping lists (1%)

No wonder last year, for the first time in retail history, customer satisfaction with online retailers surpassed that with brick-and-mortar stores. By 12%, which is a lot. On a 100-point scale, online retail scored 83 points and offline got an underwhelming 71. And Amazon, the mother of all reviews, topped the chart with 88 points. Could the reviews have something to do with it? (You’re nodding vigorously now, right? Just making sure.)

PICTURE THIS

After last week’s huge upgrade to the image search process, we seem to be on a roll. This week’s hot pick: retrievr, an experimental color recognition system that lets you draw with colors on a digital canvas and delivers image results from Flickr that feature the space/color combination you sketched out. Or, if you’re not into drawing, you can upload an image and retrievr hunts down images with similar space/color schemes.

retrievr.jpg

Although the algorithm doesn’t recognize shapes (say you sketch the rough outline of an apple), it does match colors and the colors’ spatial position within the image.

Sounds awkward and complicated explained, but it’s actually incredibly simple and brilliant — so see for yourself.

BP

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

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