Brain Pickings Icon
Brain Pickings

Search results for “time travel”

Carriers Rethought

Groupie paradise, FedEx vs. Donald Trump, why Earth is getting shrink-wrapped by strangers, and what TV show has an official couch.

What do vehicles, plastic bags, shipping containers and coffins have in common? They all carry their contents from one place to another. And they can all be rethought in ways that may well outsmart, outcool and outweird the original purpose.

BETTER THAN THE VAN

Couchsurfing has been around for quite some time now. And just like anything that’s become really, really big really, really fast, it was only a matter of time until it niched out. Enter Better Than The Van — a niche stay-for-free community designed specifically for bands and artists on tour. Even the search function is niche-level particular: you can narrow down your results by age range, weekday/weekend preference, and host’s relationship to music — consumer (a.k.a. fan) vs. producer (a.k.a. in a band).

We suspect the majority of couch-offerers would end up being in a band themselves — simply because nothing breeds empathy like having had the same miserable, sleep-folded-in-half-on-the-back-seat-with-drummer’s-protein-bar-wrappers experience.

Plus, we think it’s a great way for up-and-coming bands to make new friends, for up-and-coming music fans to discover new bands they dig, and for artists to meat each other and possibly sprout some killer collaborations.

QUIK HOUSE

No matter how many CFL’s we swap for incandescents, our homes remain environmental Big-Foots. Luckily, going residentially green doesn’t have to mean settling for a hippie shack in the Ohio outback.

It may, however, mean inheriting the living space of a FedEx box.

Enter Quik House. You know those “bed in a bag” things at department stores? We’d call Quik House a “house in a box”… except it is the box. It’s a prefabricated “house kit” made from recycled shipping containers. But don’t be fooled — the 2,000-square-foot dwelling includes 3 bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. It assembles in less than a day, so it should be less than 3 months between the time you order it online and your housewarming party.

You can further greenify the already super tiny-carbon-footed house with the optional solar and wind energy sourcing available. And speaking of customizing, you even have the option of getting your Quik House tagged by local graffiti artists.

At $125-$165 per square foot, including everything except the land, this isn’t just a smart investment in the planet’s future, it’s also a pretty good real estate deal.

MUSEO AERO SOLAR

If this kind of static environmental statement isn’t your thing, how about one in flux? Museo Aero Solar makes you reconsider what you choose to carry your groceries in. Thousands of plastic bags compose the “flying museum,” a hot air balloon propelled solely by solar energy. It travels from country to country and whenever it makes a landing, more bags are added, increasing both its size and the next flight distance.

Since its inception several months ago, Museo Aero Solar has toured three continents. Upon each landing, the local community gets to add to the quilt and shape this ever-growing flying canvas.

We like the idea of calling it a museum: it’s a visceral exhibition of our excess, constantly growing to reflect our never-ending consume-produce-waste cycle. The irony, of course, is that with an estimated 1 trillion plastic bags consumed annually worldwide, most of which end up in landfills, it’s virtually impossible for the museum to run out of resources. If the project carries on and continues to increase in size, it could eventually cover earth’s entire atmosphere.

How’s that for a global warming wake-up call? We hear shrink-wrap makes things even hotter.

COFFIN COUCHES

On a brighter note, Coffin Couches: corpse carriers repurposed into living room furniture.

Apparently, there’s some sort of government regulation (gotta love those) that prevents funeral homes from reselling unused coffins to the general public. So the guys behind the unorthodox venture approach said funeral homes with a recycling attitude and snag 18-gauge steel coffins with minor flaws, sculpting them into an impressive array of leather and vinyl couches.

We’re pretty sure those new media and interactive technology gurus couldn’t possibly outdo the “immersive TV experience” of watching Six Feet Under on one of these babies.

BP

Reclaiming Urban Landscape | Part 4

This week, we’re looking at ideas that claim our urban space back from the gruesome grip of commercialization, concrete and the general ugly of the city, or what grannies and Major League Baseball have in common.

MONKEY SEE MONKEY REDO

After we gave props to groundbreaking graffiti executions, it’s only fitting that we also honor non-graffiti urban guerrilla art — especially the kind that makes a social statement. Because, after all, if we’re gonna be claiming our streets back from the grip of modern indifference, we’d better have something to say.

PIXELATOR

Yeah, yeah, we’re into advertising. Fine. But here’s the thing: we’re into good, smart advertising. Which means we’re all the more eager and willing to call out the really, really bad stuff — and root for the rebels out to take it down.

Like Pixelator: an outlaw guerrilla project that uses NYC subway entrances as its canvas, covering those eye-stabbingly ugly video billboards with a lit-up panel of 45 color- changing blinking squares. We love the extreme euphemism with which the team behind it, Jason Eppink and Jen Small, talks about the work, calling that ultimate bottom-of-the-barrel advertising “exhibitions” and the suits behind it “artists,” as if only to draw our attention to the point: our aesthetic sensibility is being relentlessly polluted by the visual atrocities of the corporate world.

Pixelator is about taking a stance against it all, a stance they invite you to join them in: here’s how you too can pixelate some public ugly.

Next, let’s take on those hideous in-train subway ads — now that’s something you’re forced to stare at for quite some time, because it’s usually between them and the smelly dude talking to himself… although we’re always far more intrigued by the latter. (Draw you own conclusions, bad ad people.)

IMPROV EVERYWHERE

The concept of “guerrilla art” is by definition undefined. Which means it’s not confined to any medium or dimension. Sure, a lot of it is static, physical art. But some of it is dynamic, complex, and mobile. Which makes it all the more impressive.

We’re talking about guerrilla get-up Improv Everywhere — a group of comedy-minded citizens who cause carefully orchestrated “scenes of chaos and joy in public places.” The NYC-based group, founded in 2001, has amassed an enormous following of unofficial national and global chapters. They’ve done over 70 such stealth comedy missions, recently making major waves with the Frozen Grand Central one.

Besides being a wildly impressive stroke of such large-scale genius, the stunt got major mainstream love: not only did it land in the latest episode of Law & Order: SVU , but it was also cool enough for R.E.M. to blatantly rip off. (Nicely done, Gestalt — lost your creative bone along with your hair?)

Improv Everywhere’s founders met through the infamous Upright Citizens Brigade and much of their improv is inspired by the teachings of the cult group that brought us ass pennies.

We just dig the entire concept because IE’s missions jolt pedestrians out of the private zombie bubbles we mindlessly walk around in all day. They remind us to come to and pay attention — because when you look at how long it took the Grand Central passersby to notice the extreme and obvious bizarrerie, those Orwellian drone-filled scenes seem frighteningly nonfictional.

SECRET WALL TATTOOS

Guerrilla statements are all the more indulgent when they mess with institutions that take themselves a bit too seriously. Especially if the messing is kinda hidden, producing even more of a jaw-drop when accidentally discovered.

Case in point: you may remember the “secret wall tattoos” of pickings past — drawings in spaces normally covered by hotel furniture only revealed when said furniture is moved. Word on the street is the movement was started by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who compares the idea to the delightful discovery of the toy hidden in a box of Cracker Jacks.

Today, there’s a whole following of independent artists spreading the hospitality mischief. And curiously enough, hotels hungry for street cred are actually paying artists to do that stuff. But street- cred-for-sale discussions aside, we love the idea — what better form of social art protest than taking some of that mind-numbingly bland space back?

So here’s to injecting a bit of scavenger-huntish excitement into the otherwise bland hotel experience. Next time you check in, make sure you peek behind the paintings… and maybe pack a Sharpie of your very own.

MARK JENKINS ART

We’ve been obsessed with Mark Jenkins for quite some time, so it’s no surprise we honor him here. His street art installations are an exquisite hybrid of playful and unsettling, from the human- legged shopping cart to his Storker Project

But besides the gotta-love-it shock value of his brilliantly cast and positioned sculptures, we love what his art stands for. In a rather compelling interview with The Morning News, the artist shares what drives him: a certain outrage at how stagnant institutionally authorized public art is — monuments, memorials and the like seem to cling to the past rather than push the city into the future or challenge its present.

And that’s a pretty big social statement — how come our culture chooses to glorify the works of the past rather than celebrate the artistic vision of the present?

Plus, we just can’t stop laughing at the wall-diver.

BANKSY

Okay, okay, Banksy fans: relax. Here it comes… although we’ll preface it by saying we’re a bit ambivalent about the “social statement” quotient of Banksy’s art: somehow, it always seems to be a bit too ego-gratifying (a.k.a. “Oooh, look at what I can get away with!”) as opposed to challenging ordinary folk to stand for something.

But despite selling his works at auctions, we have to hand it to Banksy for smuggling his own art into the MoMA, The Met, The Museum of National History, The Brooklyn Museum, the Tate Gallery, and…wait for it… the Louvre. Sure, this may be the ultimate ego-driven prank — but it also challenges our relationship with art and makes us question. What belongs in this museum? Why? What makes it better than that?

And, really, while we may admire his exquisite technique (and his ability to sneak a live red elephant into a gallery), we find that all- important social perception shuffle is what really makes him a guerrilla maverick.

Because it’s not about what you can get away with, it’s about what you let people take away from it.

CANSTRUCTION

Guerrilla art doesn’t always have to be unauthorized. In fact, the more people are on board, the more of a difference the effort can make. And when it’s about solving a really, really serious social problem, then it’s really worth noting.

We found out about Canstruction by fluke, stumbling upon a bizarre public installation downtown — several gigantic sculptures of anything from the Philly Phanatic to an iPod, all made entirely out of food cans. Turns out, Philly was just one stop on the Canstruction national circuit — an operation of the Society for Design Administration, the design/build competition travels the country, challenging teams of engineers, architects and students to construct enormous sculptures out of full cans of food.

Here’s the social kick: after the competition, all the cans are donated to local food banks and distributed in emergency hunger relief programs. Since Canstruction was founded in the early 90’s, 10 million pounds of food have been donated — sodium overdose aside, that’s one massive stab at the poverty monster.

Check out the gallery of work to get amazed, inspired, and even fired up to participate. And, hey, if your city isn’t on the tour map, you can always host a competition. Talk about grassroots initiative.

KNITTA PLEASE

knit.pngHere’s another blast from the Brain Pickings past. “Guerrilla knitting” may sound like a laughable oxymoron (visuals of prankster grannies materialize), but it’s actually a brilliant form of public art that blasts the urban grayness away with a bold splash of color.

Heading the movement is Houston-based Knitta Please, a group of 11 men and women out to reimagine the cityscape. Since 2005, the crew has been wrapping ordinary city staples like lamp posts, bike racks, parking meters and other random personality- deprived objects in colorful hand-knitted sleeves.

The yarn ninjas have since color-bombed their way around the world, knit-blasting places like Seattle, Harlem, Paris, El Salvador, The Great Wall of China and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

And we love the statement they’re making — what better way to wrap up our week-long tribute to guerrilla work that claims the city back from the gray grip of faceless concrete?

Missed parts 1, 2 or 3?

BP

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.

tongcitybike.png

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.

thefeelgood3.png

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

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

View Full Site

Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I receive a small percentage of its price. Privacy policy.