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Feeling Thoughts, Playing Visions

Public display of emotion, world-saving vocabulary, the new jet set, David Lynch, the animal in us, what Mike Gravel and Moby have in common, why parting with our miniature sheep collection finally seems doable, and how everything begins with music.

HEART OF A CITY

The Nordic countries, always the beacon of design and innovation, are bringing yet another refreshing new project to the cultural table. Emotional Cities is the work of Swedish artist Erik Krikortz and is a multilayer, concrete, visual reflection of the world’s emotional pulse as it changes in real time.

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The concept is both simple and elaborate. First, there’s the website where you pick your current emotional state on a seven-level scale by clicking the visual representation of your mood. Then there’s the elaborate part that turns it into a public art installation of an emotional snapshot.

mood.pngThe project aspires to calculate and plot the average values for cities, countries and the world in real time. You can also create custom groups by using the Emotional Cities Facebook app and mood-track your workplace, your posse or your roommate. The idea is to make us more aware of our own emotions and those of others, and hopefully to help us understand them better — after you’re asked the “how?” question about your emotional state, you can also choose to answer the “why?” in a private diary on the website, encouraging you to deal with emotion in a healthy, intelligent way.

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Here’s the elaborate part: in some cities, the city’s current emotional state is projected onto a light installation in a public space. So if you were flying into Stockholm, you’d be able to instantly get a feel for the city’s cumulative emotional state at that time.

And to say the concept has gigantic social potential would be an understatement. Emotional transference or mimicry is a tremendously powerful, primal force that we humans are neurologically wired for. For details on the back-end, read up on mirror neurons and indulge in Daniel Goleman’s brilliant book “Emotional Intelligence.” But, meanwhile, let’s just say that the Emotional Cities project has the potential to virally infect real people and entire cities with positive emotion, improving everything from the stress level of the daily grind to our overall standard of living.

How are you today?

SYMBIOTIC BETTERMENT

Ask Chaucer, and he would’ve probably told you literature can save the world. And you would’ve probably laughed. Possibly pointed. Well, put that finger down because FreeRice, a smart new sister site to aspirational poverty-assassin Poverty.com, is feeding the hungry while enhancing your vocabulary.freerice1.png

Here’s how it works: you play a web game that tests your knowledge of fancy words (remember those SAT questionnaires?) and for every word you get right, FreeRice donates 20 grains of rice through the United Nations World Food Program to help end world hunger.

And that’s not all. These are serious folks — the “game” is built by professional lexicographers to ensure maximum benefits for your vocabulary. So you’re helping the world while helping yourself sound smarter, formulate ideas better, make greater impact with your speech, score better on tests, nail job interviews…you get the idea.

To kick up the challenge, you can set your computer to remember your vocabulary level as you play, so the game pushes you to make actual progress. There are 50 levels total, but getting above 48 is Shakespearean.

We dig the idea — it sounds like symbiotic quality-of-life improvement: for the world’s poor, relieving hunger clearly improves their lives; and in the world of capitalism, improving vocabulary, which is integral to your image and therefore a “self-marketing” currency, will ultimately improve your life.

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The site is entirely ad-supported, which allowed the project to double its impact — it actually started out with a 10-grains-per-word contribution, but it got a tremendous response. And because more traffic means more advertising revenue for the program, they were able to double the donation in November. Still, it may seem like tiny chip at the world poverty problem — eliminating which, along with all its related diseases, the UN estimates will cost $195 billion a year.

So scurry off to FreeRice and make yourself a better person in more ways than one. Heck, let’s go crazy — bookmark it and spend a minute on it every day. It may save a life.

Word.

BIG BIRDS, BIG EGOS

dopplr.pngWhat happens when you combine business networking, social networking, travel, and real-life fun get-togethers? Dopplr happens, a brand new service for the city-hopping business elite. It lets frequent biz travelers share plans with their friends and colleagues so that if they happen to be in the same city as a buddy at any given time, they can swap the boring staring-at-my-hotel-wall evening for a night on the town in good company. Trade in the pay-per-view for, you know, actual humans.

Seems like we’re running a Nordic theme here — Finland-based Dopplr (the country seems to be on an innovation spree lately) is the brainchild of several business geniuses, media executives and designers with extensive upmarket experience — the same crowd that embodies the site’s average user.

But with the success, smarts and talent of this set also comes some networking snobbery — right now, Dopplr is invite-only (just like uber-exclusive luxury social net darling aSmallWorld.net.) The folks behind it say the main reason is that they’re focusing on the business clientele and want to maintain maximum security, but they also admit they like to maintain an air of exclusivity. Yep, someone’s gotta cradle all those big egos. Plus, replicating people’s real-life relationships to lend the service some word-of-mouth credibility wouldn’t exactly hurt.

Do check it out — it may sound like a niche project, but we think it’s a sign of a powerful trend that’s starting to emerge. These same new-age business execs may well be the hot new commodity, a lucrative demo driving both culture and economy forward. Watch out.

NO ELABORATION NEEDED

Why we love David Lynch and simple parody.

Download it and watch it on your iPhone here.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gif

Okay, let’s do nerd-talk for a second: Goal-Gradient Hypothesis. (Man up, you can take it.) It’s the behaviorist idea that animals expend more effort when there’s an imminent reward. And because we’re all just animals (no, not like that, you dirtball), our behavior is shaped by the same patterns.

Case in point: an interesting study by a bunch of Columbia and Fordham researchers substantiated the “duh” knowledge we already have by backing it up with numbers. They looked at exactly how and by how much the prospect of a reward changes everyday human behavior. And they found that when folks joined the reward program at their local coffee shop (you know, the buy-10-get-1-free kinda thing), their interpurchase times dropped by 20%. That’s a lot. The pattern was also projected onto online behaviors, like rating a certain number of songs on a music-rating site to redeem an Amazon gift certificate. The idea is that once people have a tangible reward at the end of a task, they accelerate towards that goal beyond how they would normally complete the task. Yeah, we know, “D’oh!”

But even more interestingly, they also found that people who joined the reward program were also…

  • 19% more likely to chat with cafe employees
  • 12% more likely to say smile
  • 8% more likely to say “thank you”
  • 18% more likely to leave a tip.

So besides being numbers-based evidence for the obvious loyalty and incentive programs many companies already use, we think there’s a bigger human truth behind it — we all appreciate feeling appreciated. We want tangible proof that we matter — whether it’s to a cafe or to our bosses or to our friends — and it all becomes a loop of reciprocity.

The point here is, tangible appreciation does’t just make better customers: it makes better people. So go ahead and send that old-school thank-you note to your great aunt, even though you were so not feeling that reindeer sweater. You’ll feel better, as will she. And, who knows, maybe she’ll get you a Modbook next year.

THINKTUBE

And while we’re being brainy, the big news on that front this week is BigThink — a brand new online video network that aims to empower the “citizen-consumer” by providing access to the brains of today’s greatest thinkers and a venue for those absorbing the ideas to respond.

The army of experts spans an enormous range, from faith to science to politics to art, and everything in between. And the idea people are as diverse as former Viacom CEO Tom Freston, presidential candidate Mike Gravel, Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne, University of Pennysilvania President and political theorist Amy Guttman, iconic entrepreneur Richard Branson, and time-changing artist Moby. Plus a ton more.

Currently, the site is in private beta. But the idea is that once people immerse themselves in the world of ideas, they’d be inspired to respond and contribute, uploading their own videos. Right now, BigThink is simply an amazing and rare library of ideas, professionally organized and neatly gathered in one place. Which is great. But whether or not the project truly succeeds (and we sincerely hope it does) depends entirely on the willingness of that same “citizen-consumer” to shift from the passive lean-back comfort that current web video has become and lean forward into the active world of thought.

Time to quit watching other people’s cats do funny things and maybe think about the nature of humor.

CLUTTERBOARD

Lately, it seems like stop motion has been having a field day with award shows, YouTube popularity and the sorta-indie-but-skewing-mainstream set. And, sure, the most recognized representatives of the genre are often the most elaborate, big-budget productions backed by a corporate merchant of cool. (Hey there, Sony and Guinness.)

But it’s neat to see a fresh stop-motion spot from an unexpected, even traditionally “boring” category. Let’s face it, it’s a little easier to get excited and inspired by plasma TV’s and beer than it is by, say, storage. Which is why we dig “Tide.”

https://youtube.com/watch?v=6QfvSGZIDuM

Out of London-based agency CHI & Partners, by director Dougal Wilson, this Bronze-Lion-winning spot is visually indulgent, yet short and to-the-point: it really makes us think about the pack-rattish clutter in our own lives that we’re drowning in — heck, nothing’s come this close before to making us feel like it’s time to stash our miniature sheep collection away.

MEDIUM/MESSAGE

frame_davis.jpgThere’s no question that music has ignited some of the greatest fires in civilization’s belly. Still, it’s rare that the artistic vision music inspires uses both music’s medium and its content to craft new kinds of art. But that’s exactly what SoCal mixed media artist Daniel Edlen has done in vinyl art, using white acrylic and vinyl records to create portraits of the artists right on the physical canvas of their music.

Although the artist says his “payoff is people’s reaction when they see the pieces for the first time,” you can help support his work and vision with a more tangible payoff by buying one of the few yet-unsold pieces, framed in a clean black metal LP frame with the original album sleeve as background.

BP

Fine, It’s The Holidays

A magic fish, wet geeky dreams, bubbles everywhere, Jack White loves dough, why owls are the new face of music, how Liberal got its Arts back, and why the Grinch is getting here by train this year. Welcome to the Fine, It’s The Holidays issue.

JUST IN TIME

coolfridge.jpgFor the holidays, that is. We’ve even made room for the usual 4-7 business days shipping time-frame. Because that’s how long you’ve got until the last work day before office folk scatters for a breather of feasts, family and other fun.

So why not send both your colleagues and the old year off with some comic relief straight from your gift list? We’re pleased to bring you the desk section of Wishingfish.com, an online boutique for beautifully designed objects that put style and humor into everyday life.

angerkit.jpgA few of our favorites span the harmlessly fun day at the beach miniature set, the functionally inspired working girl’s survival kit, and the straight-shooter ass kisser breath spray for the hint-challenged. And, in light of the week at hand, we wish we’d had the nifty office anger management kit before ugly and embarrassing things happened.

Wishingfish.com has delightfully designed stuff for many of life’s corners — entertainment, bath & body, games, accessories, baby, travel, living, gourmet and more. And we can’t decide which the stuff is more: affordable or cool. Do check it out and save yourself some retail curation.

WORLD-TESTED, GEEK-APPROVED

Call us geeks, but we have an itchy fascination with the world of knowledge and, um, data. Which is why we were taken with Swivel when it first launched two years ago, and we kept a curious eye on it because it seemed like something to, well, keep a curious eye on. Today, Swivel is still weaving its webs of user-generated data representations under the mantra “Tasty Data Goodies” — a haven for the insight-hungry to collaborate and explore data together.Simply put, Swivel uses powerful computers and algorithms to turn all sorts of boring spreadsheets with public data (from government reports to shark attack stats to odd correlations like wine and violent crime) into easily digestible visual representations. This lets people have a whole new relationship and experience with data, trading hours of sifting through spreadsheets and reports for quick snapshots of images, graphics and color. They also have a ton of new media tools that allow bloggers and general web hounds to easily share info and ideas with others.

Anyone can upload data for the world to see, and it’s all free. To fund the enterprise, Swivel also offers a paid private version where people can upload stuff either for storage or to share with select others. Think of it like voicemail and conference calling for the data-dependent.

The smarty-pants website lets you compare data from multiple sources, map geographical areas, use simple criteria to sort data, plot all the graphs your visually-inclined heart desires, and download data into spreadsheets to further analyze. You can even pimp your charts with various backgrounds. And if your own organization disseminates data in any way, you can get the Swivel official source badge to help spread the vision of spreading knowledge.

The nifty enterprise was started by CNET founder Halsey Minor and a bunch of other entrepreneurial knowledge hounds.

Now, call us crazy, but we’re starting our countdown clock. It’s no secret that Google’s self-proclaimed mission and founding vision is to help organize all the world’s information — an idea clearly reflected in Swivel’s philosophy that “better informed people make better decisions: in voting booths, in corporate boardrooms and at neighborhood meetings.” So it seems like a matter not of whether, but of when and for how much Google snags up this so-up-their-alley getup.

Don’t say you didn’t see it coming.

WORLD WIDE WEB WILDFIRE

Boy oh boy what a year it’s been. It’s tempting to call it the Golden Age of Tech, what with the iPhones and Beacons and Twitters and all. So big it was that it inspired Matt Hempey and The Richter Scales, a getup of Bay Area “gentlemen songsters,” to do a musical rendition of the web revolution that is upon us.

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Perhaps not too oddly, the tune is based on Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” — a classic ode to all the history made in Joel’s lifetime, saluting the cultural revolutionaries of the day. From Harry Truman, to Joe DiMagio, to Doris Day, to Einstein, to television and more, this cultural anthem is the ultimate tribute to the kinds of social forces that matter.

And we find The Richter Scales’ selection slightly ironic: do we really live in an age where cultural visionaries filter ideas through screens and buttons, where algorithms override art in shaping culture, where MySpace exploration seems more compelling to people than space exploration? Perhaps. Is that such a bad thing? Perhaps, and perhaps not: when it comes to the advancement of human knowledge and communication, can anything really be wrong?

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifSpeaking of music, the 50th Annual GRAMMY Award nominations came out — and just for the sake of stepping outside your iTunes library bubble, you should check them out.

And despite some questionable choices (sorry, GRAMMY’s, but the White Stripes stopped being “alternative” when they sold out to Coke two years ago and, no, Jack White, you didn’t do it to “get a message of love out to the world”) and some odd entries (Ozzy? Really???), there are no huge surprises: everyone knew Amy Winehouse would storm several categories, just like everyone knows she’ll OD celebrating if she wins or OD making the pain go away if she loses. Yeah, yeah, you’re complicated. We don’t care. Just stay alive some more and make some more not-too- shabby music.

Take a look and be your own kind of grossly judgemental.

And speaking of untrivial stuff, on a completely unrelated note, check out this curious look at how social networking may be a good decade older than we think, originating long before MySpace and Facebook were even embryos in the digital womb. (And, of course, feel free to disagree.)

BOOM WENT THE BOX

So while we’re on the subjects of technology and reminiscing for a musical times past, why not something for that holiday wish-list?

Treat your trusty iPod to a super-luxury nest where hi-tech meets Hi-Fidelity. Thanks to Dutch iPod extender thodio, you can get your scroll-wheeled buddy the iBox: a fully handcrafted yet technologically advanced iPod amplifier that looks like Bose’s rich, sophisticated uncle.

The iBox is universal — all iPods are equally happy to lounge atop it. The cabinet-looking mega-dock is constructed from durable oak, mahogany and teak, finished with a high-gloss lacquer that reminds us our father’s momentous German speakers from the 80’s. You pick the color, or you go with solid wood to really nail the old-school look.

But beneath the blast-from-the-past shell hides a sonic beast with 25-watt Focal Polyglass 100CV1 speakers, 15-hour battery life, and bluetooth functionality that turns your iPod into a nifty remote control.

Plus, we just love that it looks like a startled baby owl.

Get it straight from the source for 359 Euros — that’s $529 for the fourth-continent-confined, and they ship internationally.

PUTTING THE ART BACK INTO LIBERAL ARTS

Liberal arts universities tout an education that’s at least in part related to, well, the arts. But some, especially the higher-end, more competitive ones, don’t necessarily foster the best environment for artistic talent. When the Ivy League pendulums start swinging, artsy ambitions start dwindling. We would know, we went there: it’s a tough life when Wall Street wannabees and premed prodigies surround you, and all you wanna do is art. (There should really be a cult indie rock anthem by that title — get on it, Green Day.)realarts.png

So some universities are trying to give creative types the same professional resources that are traditionally available to the pinstripe set. One such budding resource, RealArts@Penn, is still in its inception but already offers creative networking and a number of killer (paid!) summer 2008 internships for undergrads, including MTV Networks and Rolling Stone Magazine.

The goal of the project is to intersect the art world with the intellectual world of the university, with none of that mass-orientation, group-selection, intern-working-as-gopher business. They plat to extend into the curriculum, building RealArts-affiliated courses and putting together various workshops, roundtables and seminars with creative industry big-shots.

Where oh where was this program when we went to Penn?

STREET PICKINGS

grinchy.jpg

It’s that time of year
And Philly’s abuzz
With irksome good spirit
And pesky blithe Fuss.

They’re all so caught up
In that holiday cheer,
Even misers are quiet
And we Grinches don’t sneer.

But look at this Picture,
It may be quite nice.
This Picture could even
Melt our Grinchy heart’s ice!

That kid with his mommy
And the swell Trains right there
May just, gee, soften
our mean Grinchy glare!

But before we start getting
Too carried away,
There’s a Grinchy disclaimer,
A big “BUT” to say:

The thing that is warming
Our little Grinch heart?
Not the small kids, HA!,
But the swell Trains, silly fart!

BP

Think, Or Don’t

Finish genius, transcripts from your overbearing mother’s brain, more Finnish genius, how to deal with existential ponderings and hangover all at the same time, and what murals have to do with gangrene. Welcome to the Think, Or Don’t issue.

KILLER INNOVATION FROM THE OLD WORLD

Marko Ahtisaari. You may not be able to pronounce his name, but you’d better remember it. Because this fine Finn is revolutionizing the mobile industry. He’s a true visionary, if there ever was one.

Ahtisaari got an Ivy League start at Columbia, where he studied, then lectured on, philosophy, music and economics — quite the perfect ingredients for a cultural and technological revolution recipe. He lived for a while as a composer and a bassist, then started designing mobile applications long before the world had headsets glued to their ears. In 2002, he headed design strategy for Nokia.

So why do we care? Today? Because Marko Ahtisaari is also the founder of Blyk, a strikingly innovative mobile network that just launched in the UK. What’s so special about Blyk is that it’s only available to 16-to-24-year-olds (although you can stay on as you age once you join) and is funded entirely by advertising.

And not just any advertising — only stuff kids actually care about. When you register with Blyk, you build a profile of your interests — be they fashion or film or sports or music or gerbils. Then the only commercial messages you get (no more than 6 a day) are cutting-edge stuff and exclusive offers from relevant brands. So it seems like Blyk is trekking some Conversationality territory with its ad model: they use “dialogue ads,” in which a brand (say, L’Oreal) sends the user an interactive message (say, an image-based “Which celebrity are you most like?”quizlet), to which the user responds with a quick text (say, answer B for Heidi Klum), then the brand follows up with a final product recommendation message (say, “Then our Spiced Cranberry lipgloss is a great match for you.”)

On top of the clear brand benefits, dialogue ads also improve your user experience — the more Blyk learns about you as you interact with messaging, the better and more relevant it gets.

The exclusivity factor doesn’t hurt, either — Blyk has the early-day-Gmail invitation-only model, which automatically lends it the credibility of friend-to-friend recommendation and the desirability of something with a tease of a supply/demand ratio. And the no-contract thing seems perfect for the fickle demo — you can try it out and if (for some inconceivable reason) prefer a bill, you can switch to a different service. But even if you use up the 273 free texts and 43 free minutes, Blyk becomes a pay-as-you-go plan and is still the cheapest mobile operator in the UK.

Ahtisaari describes Blyk as having “the muscle and the bone of a mobile operator but the ethos and the soul of a media company.” And he nails it — Blyk delivers on the consumer end (how’s that free phone service?) and the advertiser end (how’s that direct access to willing members of the most elusive market?), concocting something that’s part new media, part behavioral targeting, part back-to-basics smart marketing.

SELF-HELP ON SELF-DAMAGE

Leave WebMD and self-help books to the hypochondriacs and the, um, victory- challenged. How about some morbid snark that, between the mocumentary exploration of a fantasy hypochondriac’s world and the encyclopedia of the world’s hardly-credible worst maladies, manages to sneak in some actually smart, functional health advice?

Then check out 192 pages of it in The Complete Manual of Things That Might Kill You. We dig their prescription — after all, the healthiest approach to health may just be not thinking about it too seriously. Do it any other way, and the worrying alone can kill you.

This jewel is part of California design company Knock Knock‘s Self-Hurt series, rubbing ailed shoulders with manuals on traumatizing your children, getting in debt, procrastinating, and driving like a maniac.

We swear we didn’t contribute to any of them.

GLOCAL CULTURE

kiosk |ˈkēˌäsk|: a small open-fronted hut or cubicle from which newspapers, refreshments, tickets, etc., are sold.

Kiosks are also one of the best parts about traveling abroad. Tucked in the street corners of Brazil, sprawled on the market walks of Turkey, lined up on the organized sidewalks of Sweden, kiosks are where you find all those material mementos, big or small, that bring the just-traveled cultured to your worldly home.

KIOSK is also the web incarnation of the eponymous SoHo brick-and-mortar store that sells unobjectionably cool objects from across the globe.

These cultured folks travel the world, then build globally-local collections of anonymous objects from different countries. Each country gets a 4-to-6-month run on the online store, where select products from that foreign land not otherwise sold in the US can be found. KIOSK aims to gather things “by not one personality but things that are the result of local aesthetics and needs.” But once something’s gone, it’s gone — so grab those Finnish gymnastics shoes before some other hobo-hipster does.

The current collection hails from Finland. (We swear, this week’s overdose of the world’s sixth happiest nation is a mere coincidence and not a reflection of some odd Finnish fetish.) You can also catch up with the ongoing collection of countries past. And check out their blog, where they reveal we have a shared love for GOOD Magazine.

And if you’re lacking, or slacking, on your thoughtful and creative holiday gift shopping, do turn to KIOSK’s 2007 gift sets. Or at least fire up those hint-dropping skills and tell the givers you’re expecting from that you’re eyeing the stuff.

FOOD FOR ABSOLUTELY NO THOUGHT

Whoever thought the ultimate unhappy ending could ever be amusing. Seems like the guys behind the Blue Ball Machine did. Nope, it’s not world’s most mischievous android tease. It’s something the purpose of which is not quite clear, but something indulgently vertigo-inducing without the aid of controlled substances — and that’s gotta count for something.

Watch the little balls waltz across their factory dancefloor to the sound of an electro-classical circus mind-driller.

blueball1.png

And oh how many ways there are to enjoy the Blue Ball Machine. You could somberly reflect on your own destiny as a tiny blue ball in the well-oiled machine that is society. You could ponder the existential purpose of the little spheres’ perpeto-mobilesque journey. Or you could stare blankly at the screen for 4 underslept, hung-over hours.

We don’t judge.

STREET PICKINGS

If you’ve been in Philly for longer than an hour, chances are you’ve noticed the numerous murals — old, new, mosaic, painted, pseudo-graffitied — glaring from the facades of the cityscape.

Intended to lift our communal spirits, inspire a sense of pride and glory, or do God (the mayor?) knows what, they’re often ironically lurking from the walls of the grimmest blocks like silk-woven bandages on a gangrened limb. We couldn’t help seeing the inspiration/desperation contrast between this particularly glorious mural from several decades ago and the homeless woman sleeping on the cold sidewalk beneath it one chilling winter morning.

inspirationvsdesperation.jpg

So if the mayor would spend less (time, funding, attention) on trying to make the already fortunate feel better and more on helping the less fortunate get better, then maybe one day we’ll have streets less artificially glorious and more comfortingly comfortable.

BP

Didn’t See It Coming

Antidextrous art, the perfect drink, flipping off physics, why you should always (ALWAYS!) listen to us, who (kinda) rocked out 2007, what new disaster you should be worrying about, all that manlove, and absolutely nothing to do with Thanksgiving, turkeys or the word “gobble.” Welcome to the Didn’t See It Coming issue.

POWER TO THE ANTIDEXTROUS

Okay, if you happen to be one of those ambidextrous wunderkinds, please place either of your freaky genius hands on the mouse and scroll down to the next section: you’re not welcome in this one. Because this section is all about the art of loving your awkward non-dominant hand.

At least that’s what Justin and Drew, the guys behind Left Handed Toons (by right-handed people), believe.

And we think it’s antidextrous genius. So far, they’ve got 124 delightfully awkward toons to show for it, new ones coming regularly, and a just-opened merch store. Which actually brings some unexpected freshness into the sea of seen-it-many-times, been-done-before graphic tee sameness.

Justin and Drew: you just got yourselves the Brain Pickings (left) thumb-up.

IN GOOD SPIRITS

‘Tis the season of indulgence and little do we like more than indulging our vices. Yep, people seem to invest extra effort and money in pampering their questionable inclinations, from the eco-geeks, to the booze snobs, to the kinky…okay, we don’t go there. And while there’s a whole multimillion-dollar industry addressing the “won’t go there” needs, there’s now something addressing the demands of the snobbiest, pickiest, most demanding liquor connoisseurs.

MONDOliquor is a new website that curates exotic, local, hard-to-find and specialty indie liquors and wines for those who expect nothing less of their booze.

So in the spirit of the season, what better way to wash down all that pumpkin pie than with a shot of Pumpkin Pie Vodka? Just keep the shots coming and you’ve washed away all the gorging guilt, too. Seems to us like a solid plan.

DOWN WITH GRAVITY

Never ones to believe in applied physics (ask Ms. Chakarova, our sternly-lipped high school physics teacher), we’ve had dreams of flying since before we could walk. Granted, gravity isn’t exactly cooperating. But that’s not stopping visionary photographer Jan von Holleben from making the camera an imaginative haven for those dreams.

His photoseries Dreams of Flying portrays the most precious part of childhood: the ability to make dreams come true through boundless imaginative freedom.

Shooting children (you know, with a camera) seems to come naturally to von Holleben, which may have something to do with his own parents: a cinematographer and a child therapist. Dreams of Flying, inspired by classic children’s books and contemporary superheroes, was shot over four years with children from von Holleben’s hometown neighborhood in Southwest Germany.

THE TOLDJA SO DANCE

You may recall from past Brain Pickings eras a certain service by the name of Jott that lets you send notes to yourself while on the go using your cell phone. Quick recap for our new readers: Jott lets you dictate all those note-to-self moments into a cell phone, then have it transcribed and delivered to you via email or text message. And it’s all completely free.

Well, proof that we spot big things early: this week, Jott signed a deal with Amazon under which Jott users can fill their Amazon wish lists or shopping carts just by speaking into their phones. So imagine you’re on the train, reading a magazine, and spot a pair of rainboots you love. Or at a fried’s barbecue ogling those awesome crisp-sound-blasting outdoor iPod speakers. If you’re a Jotter, here’s what you do:

You: dial 1-866-JOTT-123

Jott: “Who do you want to Jott?”

You: “Amazon.”

Jott: “Amazon, is that correct?”

You: “Yes.”

Jott: “Say the name of the item. Beep!”

You: “Bushnell Travel Tunes outdoor speakers for iPod.”

Jott will proceed to send you an email with the top 5 results for your from Amazon, plus pricing info and customer reviews. (PS. Sorry, Jott — you may get A+ for functionality, but we can’t give you more than a B for grammar.)

Not bad, not bad at all. Meanwhile, the marketing industry was freaking out on and off stage at the CTIA Conference this year because mobile ads are that kid whom everyone expected to be valedictorian, prom king, and class president, but who ended up flunking out. So here’s a thought: perhaps independent software developers like the folks at Jott will be the ones to really kick-start mobile marketing: as an organic extension of the service itself, one that reflects actual user needs rather than a force-feeding mechanism for privacy-invading sales pitches. Just sayin’.

WHO’S TO SAY

Seems a bit early, but this year’s best-of lists are already rolling out. Like this Hottest Products of 2007 show-down by AOL Money & Finance. We did, however, have to ask ourselves how come AOL, always the dinosaur struggling to shake off their own unhot image, should be the judge of current hotness. But, hey, to give them some credit: we discovered this one by doing something we’d never-ever-ever done before: clicking on an online banner. Granted, this one was nicely animated and had clever copy, but the act in and of itself made us feel like we’ve brought shame upon our family. Aw well. Onwards:aol.jpg

1. iPhone. This year’s most anticipated product launch kicked off a sales bonanza that left even Apple’s own projections in the dust.

2. Coke Zero. Despite the extravagant 2005 launch, Coke’s biggest one in two decades, sales proved the product to be “special” — not in the good way. This year, it got an image revamp and managed to jack up Coke’s to a seven-year high.

3. Nintendo Wii. Okay, so maybe this too didn’t exactly launch this year. But it was this year that it hit the stunning 13 million sales mark.

4. Slingbox. Straight from your home, compressed live TV, satellite, DVR and all, sent to a computer anywhere in the world. Not bad.

5. VitaminWater. Coca-Cola snagged it this year for $4.2 billion. And Fitty made $100 million from his stake in Glaceau. Phew.

6. Tesla Roadster. This fully electric beast goes 0-60 in under 4. Or at least the prototype does — the 2007 launch has been slacked off to 2008, but even so the Tesla is fully sold out.

7. Google Maps. Mainly, the much-buzzed-about Street View function introduced in may, which allows you to take virtual 360-degree tours of cities.

8. Halo 3. We think something that broke the record for highest-grossing opening day sales ($170 million) in entertainment history should rank higher than a drink. But whatever.

9. Hannah Montana. Um, like, duh. This Disney cash cow has been milked for TV shows, merch toys, a clothing line, sold-out concerts, and an upcoming movie.

10. Boeing 787 Dreamweaver. Up goes fuel efficiency, on come 210-330 passengers, and 750 of these babies have already been back-ordered.

Okay, we’re not transcribers here. We wasted enough time composing the lovely visual for you — just click the damn link for the rest. (Or don’t. We think, with the exception of 14, they kinda suck anyway. Just kidding. Sort of.)

UNTRIVIA

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Here’s the thing about the Internet: it’s a little bit like childbirth. We do know that it’s big and important and keeps the world running, but we’re afraid that finding out the back-end details would be so gut-wrenchingly devastating we’d wish we never had. And while we’re not in the business of illuminating the (gory, mucousy, flesh-ripping) miracle of childbirth for you here, we don’t at all mind giving you a gory Internet reality-check.

Turns out, what with all the consumer-generated content binge, the world has a new cyber-natural disaster pending. In expert circles, it goes by Exaflood: the massive flood of video and other broadband traffic pouring onto and from the web every day. The name comes from the the data quantifier exabyte (EB), humongous numbers of which the world has started consuming: 161 million so far this year alone.

Just one exabyte has so much data that, if converted to DVD’s, it would take over 50,000 years to watch. Which means watching Chocolate Rain and all the rest of this year’s content would take about 8.5 million years. And, at that pace, 20 US households in 2010 will use more Internet capacity than the whole world did in 1995, with up to 80% of it coming just from online video streaming.

Here’s a numbers-and-figures snapshot of just the kind of information flood we’re dealing with at exabyte level:

Quantities of bytes
SI prefixes (decimal) IEC prefixes (binary)
Legacy use (often with KB for kB)
Value Name Value Name
10001 = 103 kilobyte (kB) 10241 = 210 = 1.024·103 kibibyte (KiB)
10002 = 106 megabyte (MB) 10242 = 220 ≈ 1.049·106 mebibyte (MiB)
10003 = 109 gigabyte (GB) 10243 = 230 ≈ 1.074·109 gibibyte (GiB)
10004 = 1012 terabyte (TB) 10244 = 240 ≈ 1.100·1012 tebibyte (TiB)
10005 = 1015 petabyte (PB) 10245 = 250 ≈ 1.126·1015 pebibyte (PiB)
10006 = 1018 exabyte (EB) 10246 = 260 ≈ 1.153·1018 exbibyte (EiB)
10007 = 1021 zettabyte (ZB) 10247 = 270 ≈ 1.181·1021 zebibyte (ZiB)
10008 = 1024 yottabyte (YB) 10248 = 280 ≈ 1.209·1024 yobibyte (YiB)

No word on how much of that traffic comes from “adult” video. And, just like with childbirth, we think we’re better off.

MANLOVE INCUBATOR

incubator.pngFor the second consecutive year, mtvU (you know, the ugly bastard child in Viacom’s otherwise decent property line-up, spinning 24-hour college programming that hardly anyone watches) teamed up with Cisco Systems for the annual Digital Incubator competition: a search for the five most innovative online ventures by students. The award grants are up to $30,000 and this year there was an extra kicker: the five grand recipients got a chance to pitch a detailed business plan to MTV and Cisco executives for another grant of up to $100,000.

And one team actually won it: RapHappy, a freestyle battle site that lets anyone and everyone break it down. You’ll find anything from actual battles to R. Kelliesque (but much less creepy, we promise) epics. But dig it just because it’s so damn tongue-in-cheek you can’t help ROLF-ing over some of those jewels.

raphappy2.pngLike our favorite: this rappy ode to manlove boldly broadcasting rapper Gnomebody’s tender manly feelings for his BFF Zach (a.k.a. Zakku). And if there wasn’t a picture, we could’ve sworn it was auteured by a certain manly love duo we know who shall remain nameless. (We’re talking to you, “Rob” and “Gari”.)

BP

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