Smurfs on drugs, little kids, a three-way call with McDonald’s and your BFF, where to have the best affair in Zambia, what Einstein and a bunny have in common, and how to butter up your boss for the holidays. Welcome to Brain Pickings.
By Maria Popova
SWEETLY PRETENTIOUS / PRETENTIOUSLY SWEET
Unadmitted intellectuals, self-admitted New Yorkers at heart, culture hogs and cheapos alike: rejoice. The holy grail of web publishing is finally being handed to us on a digital platter. Yes, it’s true: The New York Times has made its online content available for…gasp…free. Which leaves us with in an oh-so-familiar paradox: so much to explore, so little free time.
Luckily, we’re all kinds of nice here. So we’re sifting through it all for you at 5th-gear-full-throttle rates to bring you the very best. Stuff like painter and experimental filmmaker Jeff Scher’s The Animated Life, a blog (but, oh, so much more) about the abstract and the nitty-gritty of life, beautifully written and marvelously animated. What more is there, really?
Granted, the man’s credits make him sound a bit pompous (and by “a bit” we mean Niles Crane pompous): he has screened at the Guggenheim, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Pompidou Center in Paris, and opening night at the New York Film Festival, among other distinguished venues. And he’s done work for HBO and PBS, among other distinguished acronyms.
But we, regardless of our general tendency to go for the darker stuff, dig that he’s not a trend-follower. That whole “dark” trend, that is. Because we’ve noticed that in recent years, that whole generation of teen-angst-ridden kids has grown up to become a generation of twentysomething-jaded artists who, however talented, often exorcise it all through the aforementioned “darker stuff.” And a lot of it is painfully alike. Good, sometimes even great, but alike.
Jeff Scher’s work is anything but. Dark and seen-it-before, that is. Part 50’s Russian animation, part Wizard of Oz, part early Disney, part French cartoons from the early 90’s, it’s truly whimsical and feels eerily timeless, and yet it captures those can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on things about modern life. No wonder NYT kept it in their private Fort Knox for so long. Hell, we would, too.
Except we’re nicer than the Ochs-Sulzberger family.
YOU’D BETTER BELIEVE IT
Okay, we’re not in the business of putting people at risk for getting overcultured. So let’s hurry and offset any damage we may have done.
The interesting thing about click-and- mortar warehouse Amazon.com is that it lumps together serious, reputable products (like, say, one Options Playbook) with, well, let’s just say less reputable ones. Stuff like our product pick of the week which, had we seen it elsewhere, we would’ve instantly taken for some sort of viral gag.
Well, it ain’t.
Alas, it ended up in Amazon’s digital clearance bin and garnered no reviews whatsoever, so we guess people were unable to not believe and therefore refused to buy.
Now here’s something to kick off our holiday gift shopping early.
WHEN A MOTEL WON’T DO
Long before bad movie remakes put the name on public lips, Mr. & Ms. Smith was a niche travel website that bridged couples with their dream romantic escapes, at the world’s most luxurious destinations. The allusion to the original movie, in the team’s own words, is “a wink to couples everywhere, who fancy checking into a fabulous hotel under this classic dirty-weekend pseudonym.” Ah, marriage.
Their travel portfolio includes the poshest destinations and independent hotels across the globe, each reviewed anonymously by a professional Mr. & Mrs. Smith reviewer. And speaking of the team, besides the three key chronic entrepreneurs, it features a reviewer panel made up of writers, restaurant critics, designers (including Stella McCartney) and rock stars. If these guys don’t know luxury and incognito, we don’t know who does.
Exclusive memberships come in three ego sizes — BlackSmith (Â£10), SilverSmith (Â£75), and GoldSmith (Â£250) — all promising cardholders various levels of very, very special offers. (No, not in that Asian massage parlor kind of way.)
BIG BROTHER WANTS TO CALL YOUR MOTHER
Convenience is the new capital. We pay more to get places faster (hello, overpriced Accela Express), do things with less effort (Amazon.com, thank you for sparing us many a shopping trip), watch things on our terms (TiVo, anyone?). But it was only a matter of time until smart business models started popping up, offering convenience in exchange for something other than money. Ours, at least.
San-Jose-based Pudding Media is one such interpreneur — using the Internet to revolutionize telecommunications. Last week, they launched The Pudding (in Beta), a VoIP service that allows free calls to anywhere in North America straight from a web browser, sans annoying application downloads.
The business model also includes “breakthrough technology that makes your conversations even more interesting by displaying content that is relevant to your conversation.” Read: repurposed contextual targeting technology that nudges highly targeted ads into your conversation. For the Gmailholics among us, it’s nothing new: you know those contextual ads to the right of your message? Same deal, only The Pudding’s technology uses voice recognition software (the same thing that lets you add voice commands to your cell’s call options.) But it’s made it into The New York Times, so we guess it’s significant enough an innovation to warrant the big guns’ attention.
The Orwellian privacy police of the blogasphere is already going at it. But, really, who’s forcing their fingers over t-h-e-p-u-d-d-i-n-g-.-c-o-m on the keyboard? We’re just glad the option is out there.
And, more than anything, we’re fascinated by the most interesting finding of all: while running some testing, Pudding Media CEO Ariel Maislos found that the advertising content actually influenced the course of the organic conversation between the caller and the callee. How’s that for proof of the very real feedback loop and Conversationality potential between brands and everyday folk?
WHAT LIVES UNDER THE DIGITAL BED
What happens if you take the Smurfs, get them high on psychedelic drugs, have them watch Six Feet Under for seven hours, read them selected excerpts from your favorite Stephen King novel, and let them loose with a bucket of paint and a brush? Zoomquilt II happens.
Dubbed “a collaborative art project,” it’s really a digital mashup of various artists‘ illustrations, pieced together in Flash to produce a mesmerizing, dizzifying, endless loop of interlocking images sure to give you more optical illusions than walking into Disneyland after downing five Purpletinis.
Originally conceived by mastermind artist and developer Nikolaus Baumgarten, the first generation of Zoomquilt was born in 2005. Over 100,000 Google hits later, it was retired to make room for 2007’s upgrade: Zoomquilt II.
Check it out and see how long you can last before your head starts spinning and your recurring childhood nightmare about that creepy clown living under your bed comes back.
ANIMAL PLANET MEETS NIP/TUCK
Most of us have moments when we feel weird, awkward, odd, and generally unfitting. (Some of us more frequently than others.) So it’s nice to know that there are other weirdos out there in the global high school that is the Biosphere.
For your viewing pleasure, we present you with “25 of The World’s Most Interesting Animals.” (And, dare we add, our 8th grade English teacher’s words of literary peevishness — that “interesting” is what you call an ugly baby — never seemed more fitting.)
We’re having a hard time picking a favorite. There’s the blob fish, which looks like a certain great uncle of ours; the tarsier, which finally helps us make sense of Simon Cowell’s comments regarding a certain American Idol contestant’s appearance; the aye-aye, which gives us a sneak preview of what next century’s anthropologists will see when they exhume Paris Hilton’s dog; the angora rabbit, which looks like it proposed the Theory of Relativity; and, of course, the Komondor dog, which we’re pretty sure can be purchased at the Pottery Barn.
Pick your own favorite oddball, or just sit back, check yourself out in the mirror, and be grateful you didn’t end up on nature’s aesthetic shitlist.
Published September 28, 2007