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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


SPECIAL: Second Annual Not-So-Much Awards

Bowel bothers, $4 million can-can, wow- lessness, flogger flops, unfab abs, FedEx, how “the social” never happened, what public bathroom walls have to do with big mergers, and why Gossip Girl isn’t feeling lucky. After a year of celebrating the good, welcome to the second annual round-up of the bad and the ugly: the Brain Pickings Not-So-Much Awards.


With all the health-related propaganda oozing from the popular media, you’d think it’s getting easier for the nation to stay healthy. Well, not so much. Last year gave us the glorious E. coli outbreak from spinach that caused 3 deaths and 200 illnesses. And what did this year bring?

Another E. coli outbreak (this time from beef patties and frozen pizzas — we’re downgrading); asthma- attack-provoking sulfites in dried sweet potatoes; thousands of cans of beans with botulism– causing bacteria; Veggie Booty with Salmonella; and various- untimely-body-exits-inducing baby carrots with Shigella.

So has it been a great year for the 5-a-day set? Eh, not so much. Unless the number refers to the frequency of daily number-two runs. Then 2007 hasn’t been half crappy.


This was going to be the year of good television. The return of comedy that’s actually funny. The rise of smart scripted dramas. The time for well-written shows to claim glory, audiences and ad dollars back from the national tragedy that is reality TV. At least judging by the upfront extravaganza, that was the plan.

abc_upfront.pngMillions of dollars were spent (3 to 5, to be exact), grand venues were rented, all-star Academy-winning casts were made to do the can-can in uncompromising spotlights, glamorous swag was sent to the media and marketing folk who matter, big plans were laid, $9.2 were sucked in from advertisers.

And then the WGA struck. More than 12,000 writers raised their communal and previously snubbed, ignored, unheard voice for the first time in two decades to ask for a teeny bit more than the measly revenue crumbs they’ve been getting. No writing, no audience, no ad dollars. Network terror. Panic. The unmistakable smell of TV exec shit.

For all those reasons and more, a well-deserved Not-So-Much award goes to the 2007 TV Upfront. Congrats, too bad TV execs can’t retire on a virtual trophy once they’re handed that cardboard box.


vista.pngBilly Boy, we love your humanitarian work — but Vista? Seriously? How about you first test it out on your PC at home next time, eh? Needless to say, the “WOW” moment never came. Unless we count the “WOW” you got after PC World (!) named Vista the biggest tech disappointment of 2007. Combine that with the overwhelmingly underwhelming review by ultimate tech tastemaker Engadget, and there you have it: wow? Not so much.

Really, though. Isn’t this why you’re paying those pimply programmer kids seven-figure salaries? Feed them more pizza, buy them more beer, do what you gotta do. Just don’t let another one of these slide.


Rather than learning from last year’s flogs debacle (hey there, Sony PSP and Wal-Mart), the ethically challenged bastard-children of the marketing industry decided to kick it up a notch this year: they hired full-fledged floggers. Under the PayPerPost model, thousands of bloggers brokered their “opinions” to eager advertisers — it’s Payola 2.0 and it’s going down in flames already.

So the FCC threatened. WOMMA (the Word of Mouth Marketing Association) initiated an investigation and proceeded to slam the practice as non-compliant with their Ethics Code. The New York Times raised a disapproving eyebrow at chief offenders, and Then it really escalated: first the FTC stuck a major red flag on it all, then it got as bad as it gets — Google spanked the questionable practice big-time. (Because, let’s be honest, these days a bitch-slapping by Google is far more serious a threat than anything coming from a Federal Toothless Committee.)

In the end, PayPerPost (legally IZEA) folded some of its properties and quietly tucked away others. And the obvious answer to the “Isn’t paid blogging a great, legitimate, win-win idea?” question seems to be an unanimous “Not so much.”


It’s not that they didn’t give her a chance. They did. And boy oh boy did they regret it. Because Britney’s “comeback performance” at the VMA’s was just the kind of ordeal that sent 99% into almost-feeling-bad-for- her-but-not-quite bouts of convulsive laughter. The remaining 1% got fired because of it…although we’re pretty sure they too laughed all the way to the Unemployment Office. Wait, wait. We take that back. the remaining 1% were Chris Crocker.

But the abysmal performance isn’t what’s earning Brit the Not So Much award this year. Because while it may have been abysmal, at least it was real. Which isn’t something that could be said of her spray-tanned- over-the-flab abs. If only she had spent those 2 hours rehearsing, then maybe it wouldn’t have ended like…oh, who are we kidding.


And what’s an annual shitlist without an Ann Coulter entry? Nope, it’s not for dropping the F-bomb on both Al Gore and John Edwards. It’s not for saying the Jews need to be “perfected” into Christianity. (All that and more has come to be naturally expected from the depravity dame.) It’s not even for comparing the New Testament to FedEx.

It’s for doing it on Donny Deutsch‘s The Big Idea. Here’s the thing: Donny, always the media whore, is probably much less disturbed by stabs at his private beliefs, such as religion, than he is by even the slightest allusions to his public failures. Because, coincidentally, Donny’s big Super Bowl idea this year crashed and burned like no other. Which we’re sure only added fuel to the fire of his grumping about how BBDO’s spots for FedEx outperform any Deutsch Super Bowl creations year after year.

Congrats, Ann. You’ve reached a point where your bile reaches far beyond your intended sore spots.


And so it is, Microsoft appears to be the Tina Fey of the Not So Much awards (you know, snagging the honors in multiple categories)…only not nearly as smart and much, much less sexy. Case in point: the Zune.

You may vaguely remember last year’s overhyped launch and the sharing-based “Welcome to the Social” positioning. Well, after an initial review by make-or-break tech expert Engadget that actually included the word “sucked” and a subsequent extensive confirmation of the Zune’s overall lackingness, it became apparent that the only sharing going on was that of worldwide opinions on what exactly about the Zune makes it suck.

So swinging between damage control and a second stab at taking down the iPod, the unfortunate underdog decided to pretend like “the social” never happened (wait, it actually never did) and position the Zune with the sharply original (in another universe) “You Make It You.” More hype followed, including one rather blatant rip-off of a certain shot-down- by-client Cutwater spot for Motorola by Michel Gondry, or of the wonderful “Hello Tomorrow” spot for adidas by Spike Jonze from a few years ago, or of both.

In the end, the Zune continues to tank, Microsoft continues burning through ad agencies like a celebrutante through rehab stints, and the answer to the “Are we bumping the iPod yet?” question continues to remain: “Not so much.”


Remember in high school when the bathroom walls were a graffitified slander fest, a Sharpie-driven manifestation of petty popularity vendettas? Well, seems like Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, the same nice guy who made his own salary $1 last year and basked in the press ooohing and awwwing over it, is more high school girl than business big boy. Or at least that’s what his doings in the business version of bathroom walls — you know, the stock market forums — suggest.

wall.jpgBecause this year was the year he got caught Sharpie-handed, busted for being the mysterious bad-mouther of Whole Foods competitor Wild Oats all across the stock forums, something he’d been doing since 2005 — when, apparently, his plan of acquiring Wild Oats was first cooked up. (A plan that finally came to fruition when Whole Foods agreed to buy Wild Oats for $565 million, or $18.50 a share, this year.) That mysterious had been dishing out rather specific prophetic projections, including the prediction that Wild Oats would crumble into bankruptcy after its stock price dropped to $5, as well as some pretty stabby critiques of Wild Oats management. So how did the mystery bad-mouther get traced back to Mackey?

Via the very, very, very cleverly devised username: Rahodeb. Which just so happens to be wife Deborah’s name with the syllables swapped backwards. Even more embarrassingly, “Rahodeb” went as far as revealing, like, an ohmigod-total crush on Mackey, complete with confessions like “I like Mackey’s haircut” and “I think he looks cute!”

Not to worry, though. Our aforementioned government hero, the FTC, stepped in hands-on-hips and cape aflow to resolve the issue by questioning the bigger-than-high-school legal issues about a Whole Foods / Wild Oats merger. Too bad big bad villain Bureaucracy got in the way — the case is still pending, and we’re left hanging for a final word. But, meanwhile, we’re pleased to present Rahodeb with a Not-So-Much award for a high-school-to-business-world transition.


It’s not news that product placement, branded entertainment, or whatever else you wanna call the ubiquitous paid-for logo-slapping on today’s screens, has become a big deal. Some takes on it are actually marginally believable and not too disruptive of the show’s flow. NBC and Bravo had the formula right again this year, with 8 of the top 10 most successful (a.k.a. least likely to piss off audiences) product integrations.

So what is the formula? The pros say it best: Frank Zazza, CEO of product placement valuation company ITVX points the finger to seamlessness: “[Seamlessness] is the key to the future of product placement… If it is done organically and seamlessly, it will match [the viewer’s] real world.”

Hmmm, we have to wonder what kind of wax the CW folks had in their ears when deciding to go smack against the expert advice. Sure, they’re hungry to rise above being the pimply loser at the popular kids’ party that is broadcast television. And, sure, they may be lusting after the 13-24 female set with shows like the flashback-to-the-worst-of-high-school Gossip Girl. But seemlessness, it seems, wasn’t anywhere on the roadmap for getting there.

verizon.pngSee, the CW chose to splatter Verizon products all over that canvas of mediocrity that is Gossip Girl (a gig so inexplicably sought-after that it ignited a vicious three-way bid-off against T-Mobile and AT&T, which Verizon in the end won.) And by all over we mean all over: long pan-and-zooms on Verizon devices, unnaturally lengthy screen time of text messages (and, yes, we mean unnatural even in the uber-texty universe of teenage girls)…you get the idea.

Meanwhile, they choose to purposely mask the most natural, plot-based use of one of today’s most universally recognized brands: Google. In fact, a brand so crucial that they simply couldn’t get around it in the story line, and so powerfully popular through word-of-mouth alone that it didn’t even need to pay for placement. Most importantly, a brand so strong that it’s inevitably recognized beneath the changed colors of its homepage, the generic “Search” name, and the bland “1st Result” label for its iconic “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. How’s that for matching the viewer’s “real world.”


What an ironic allegory for the power of brands this is — goes to show that no product placement budget can match the pure value of authenticity. In the great words of Google VP of Marketing David Lawlee, “It’s easier to do a thousand little things than one 30-second spot, if you have the world’s attention.” Unfortunately for the CW, the world’s attention in this case was neither there nor generating revenue.

Spotted: CW trying oh-so-hard to score with the cool kids but scoring the year’s biggest Not-So-Much award instad. Fake recognizes fake, little net.


Price Tags of Life

Money to burn, the world’s most profitable non-retailer, worse than rehab, outmobying Moby, farting sheep, cashing in on karma, how Josh feels about the homeless, and absolutely nothing related to Halloween. Welcome to the Price Tags of Life issue.


$Okay, so maybe money does make the world go ’round. But managing it also takes away from our time enjoying the world’s ’round-going. Especially when the average American juggles 13 total credit obligations (9 credit cards and 4 installment loans) for a staggering national consumer debt of $2.47 trillion. So anything that makes that whole money game easier is a welcome crutch in our crippled sprint away from bankruptcy.

Say hello to, a totally free, totally secure service that’s out to refresh money management. An effortless way to pull all of your financial stuff in one place and stay on top of things, it takes less than 5 minutes to set up. You just go through a few authentication steps for each of the accounts you add (credit cards, banks, checking accounts, savings, etc.) and you’re good to go. (And just to reiterate for the paranoid types out there, Mint provides bank-level data security. That’s PayPal with a chastity belt.

The minty magic also gives you snapshot of your spending patterns, so you know where you’re blowing your budget, and offers helpful saving tips based on your financial activity. And it saves the average user $1,000 at the first login. Bonus points for the wonderfully Appleish, widgety feel and an interface that’s as hip as anything financial can get.


It’s been a while since we endorsed something with such lack of reservation and snark, but this one’s a real Brain Pickings Seal of Approval winner. More importantly, it’s also the winner of this year’s TechCrunch 40 grant: that’s a $50,000 nod. Do check it out.


If you’re an aspiring designer, artist, art director or other artsy-crafty type, you’re familiar with Threadless: the Chicago-based website that lets people submit t-shirt designs to be voted on by others, then manufactures the top 7 designs each week and pays the artists $2,500 a piece. Last month, Threadless opened their first retail store in Chicago, taking the nontraditional to a whole new level. They’re even staying away from the “store” label and calling it a community center instead, a “project” rather than a “business”.

The two-story, 1,700 square-foot establishment carries a maximum of 20 t-shirt designs at a time, changing them up every Friday regardless of their popularity. And we’re talking about the first floor.

The second floor is actually merchandise-free, providing instead a space for group classes, random gatherings, or just a WiFi getaway. This kind of community-centric model fully reflects the founding philosophy of the 7-year-old company.

And it has become no small hub of creativity: with over 500,000 registered members and 1,000 weekly design submissions, Threadless spends over $1 million a year compensating artists for their designs. At $15 to $17 price tag for t-shirts, we guess it’s safe to say these folks must be on to something. In fact, their global annual sales have now topped $17 million — no small feat for the 35-employee getup whose primary contributors are starving artists.


So whether you’re into entrepreneurism, art, or fashion, Threadless is worth taking a look at. Even if only for the not-so-remote possibility that it may embody the future of retail.


Frankly, it’s a bit dizzifying when everyone and their mother is throwing beat-up terms like “indie”, “commercialization”, “sell-out,” and “Bob Dylan is a soulless fucking hypocrite” at us. Sure, lines are blurring. And money is being made. But the whole marketplace of licensing tunes to advertising is leaving fans, and some Washington Post staffers, kinda bitter.

So one such indignant guy came up with The Moby Equation: a very, very precise mathematical formula using very, very subjective quotients to measure how much exactly an artist has “sold out.” (Not that you’re wondering, because it’s so blatantly obvious, but just in case: the name was inspired by the legendary licensing bonanza that landed just about every track on Moby’s 1999 Play album in a commercial.)

So we decided to see how “nonconformist” Regina Spektor fared with her “Music Box” stint for JC Penny (a.k.a. Saatchi’s attempt to infuse the bland retailer with some lovemark juice.) The formula spat out an impressive Moby Quotient of 312.56. But there seemed to be some kinda bug: although you can calculate the quotient, you can’t really submit a comment as clicking the “submit” button gets you to that oh-so-familiar standard error page.

So much for our snarky remark about Regina’s only chance in life to out-something The Clash.


And on that note, those of us who’ve seen Lost In Translation know a thing or two about the Japanese commercial exploits of Western celebrities. One YouTube user took to bursting Hollywood’s sacredness bubble by compiling an extensive library of such Japanese commercials, spanning over 20 years and featuring dozens of A-listers.

The clips range from the laughable (please keep those towels on, Harrison Ford and Japanese sauna-mate) to the mildly offensive (who thought Jack Bauer was a calorie-conscious kinda man) to the grossly bizarre (hey there, naked Homer and Bart shilling C.C. Lemon).

Go ahead, indulge your makes-them-look-so-much-less-enviable craving with the complete collection.



We’re doing something a little different this week. This Untrivia edition is less about what people are doing, saying or thinking and more about what they should be doing, saying or thinking in light of some interesting facts, ranging from just plain odd to pretty damn disturbing. Consider them little tidbits of eye-opening stuff, stuff to inspire you to make simple changes, or just stuff to make you look smarter next time you’re trying to pick up an eco-hippie. Here we go:

  • Americans use 60,000 plastic bags every 5 seconds
  • It takes 25 bath tubs (1,250 gallons) of water to make a single half-pound beef patty (and 417 gallons for half a pound of tofu)
  • In the US alone, over 1 billion bottles of water get shipped on trains, trucks and boats, resulting in 37,800 18-wheelers guzzling the roads to deliver it
  • People chug over 30 billion throwaway bottles of water a year, enough to go around the world 150 times with an end-to-end chain of the used bottles
  • Cattle and sheep pass so much gas they account for a mind-blowing 18% of all methane, one of the greenhouse gases
  • Mining gold for a single ring creates 20 tons of waste rock, leaking cyanide (used to separate metal from ore) and other heavy metals into the environment

So what’s an average Joe to do? Cut back on the Sloppy Joes, get a Brita, start shopping with a canvas bag, get over that must-wear-gold ego and, for God’s sake, give those poor cows some Beano.


Say what you will of eBay, but we can’t deny the media empire started out with a very utilitarian, user-need-centric mentality. Skype and PayPal definitely fit this model. But the latest addition to the family is truly revolutionary in vision and functionality.

microplace1.pngMicroPlace is on a remarkable mission: to alleviate global poverty by letting everyday Americans invest in businesses run by the working poor. It’s called microinvesting and besides helping those in need take their small business ideas to market, it also gives investors a financial return on their humanitarianism. We see it as the ultimate giving back.

You choose the region you want to invest in (Africa, Eurasia, Latin America or Southeast Asia) or the specific country: to help you pick, MicroPlace gives you some (pretty scary) info on the country’s mortality rate, HIV prevalence, population, life expectancy, and percentage of population earning less than $1 a day. You can start with as little as $100, which may be just a Halloween outfit for you, but will help some woman (most traders, farmers and craftspeople in the developing world are female) earn a living wage with her own brain- and hand-child.

We’re all for smart symbiotic relationships and smart solutions to big global problems, so this one’s a real list-topper on our all-things-smart collection. Be your own judge.


First, some background so you can put this week’s sighting in context: on the ramp connecting the Chestunt and Market Street bridges to the Schuylkill trail, there’s a certain bench that, for the past couple of years, has been permanently occupied by a homeless man. Most of the time, by one particular, particularly smelly homeless man. (But with 3,000 homeless cramming Philly’s handful of shelters and another 300 roaming the streets on an average day, this poor guy isn’t even a blimp on the city’s homeless radar.)

Passing by it the other day, we were startled to find one upright citizen by the name of Josh had taken matters into his own too-much-time-on hands and erected the following radical homeless-deterrent over the bench:

not the answer

Of course it’s not the answer. And of course it’s not the humane thing to do. But what it is is part of the social conversation about a clearly hot-button issue. So while Josh may not have the solution, we firmly believe that real solutions are arrived at only through serious, intense and, yes, uncomfortable conversation. Because a society with no controversy and conversation is just a tad too Orwellian for our tastes.

But we can’t help pondering the moral implications of investing time and money in such a blatant Band-Aid when this same expenditure could’ve been used towards a (tiny) stab at a cure.


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