Behold an Anatomically Correct Replica of the Human Brain, Knitted by a Psychiatrist

Our brains dictate our every move.

They’re the ones who spur us to study hard, so we can make something of ourselves, in order to better our communities.

They name our babies, choose our clothes, decide what we’re hungry for.

They make and break laws, organize protests, fritter away hours on social media, and give us the green light to binge watch a bunch of dumb shows when we could be reading War and Peace.

They also plant the seeds for Fitzcarraldo-like creative endeavors that take over our lives and generate little to no income.

We may describe such endeavors as a labor of love, into which we’ve poured our entire heart and soul, but think for a second.

Who’s really responsible here?

The heart, that muscular fist-sized Valentine, content to just pump-pump-pump its way through life, lub-dub, lub-dub, from cradle to grave?

Or the brain, a crafty Iago of an organ, possessor of billions of neurons, complex, contradictory, a mystery we’re far from unraveling?

Psychiatrist Dr. Karen Norberg’s brain has steered her to study such heavy duty subjects as the daycare effect, the rise in youth suicide, and the risk of prescribing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors as a treatment for depression.

On a lighter note, it also told her to devote nine months to knitting an anatomically correct replica of the human brain.

(Twelve, if you count three months of research before casting on.)

How did her brain convince her to embark on this madcap assignment?

Easy. It arranged for her to be in the middle of a more prosaic knitting project, then goosed her into noticing how the ruffles of that project resembled the wrinkles of the cerebral cortex.

Coincidence?

Not likely. Especially when one of the cerebral cortex's most important duties is decision making.

As she explained in an interview with The Telegraph, brain development is not unlike the growth of a knitted piece:

You can see very naturally how the 'rippling' effect of the cerebral cortex emerges from properties that probably have to do with nerve cell growth. In the case of knitting, the effect is created by increasing the number of stitches in each row.

Dr. Norberg—who, yes, has on occasion referred to her project as a labor of love—told Scientific American that such a massive crafty undertaking appealed to her sense of humor because “it seemed so ridiculous and would be an enormously complicated, absurdly ambitious thing to do.”

That’s the point at which many people’s brains would give them permission to stop, but Dr. Norberg and her brain persisted, pushing past the hypothetical, creating colorful individual structures that were eventually sewn into two cuddly hemispheres that can be joined with a zipper.

(She also let slip that her brain—by which she means the knitted one, though the observation certainly holds true for the one in her head—is female, due to its robust corpus callosum, the “tough body” whose millions of fibers promote communication and connection.)

via The Telegraph

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this April. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Buckminster Fuller Rails Against the “Nonsense of Earning a Living”: Why Work Useless Jobs When Technology & Automation Can Let Us Live More Meaningful Lives

We are a haunted species: haunted by the specter of climate change, of economic collapse, and of automation making our lives redundant. When Marx used the specter metaphor in his manifesto, he was ironically invoking Gothic tropes. But Communism was not a boogeyman. It was a coming reality, for a time at least. Likewise, we face very real and substantial coming realities. But in far too many instances, they are also manufactured, under ideologies that insist there is no alternative.

But let’s assume there are other ways to order our priorities, such as valuing human life as an end in itself. Perhaps then we could treat the threat of automation as a ghost: insubstantial, immaterial, maybe scary but harmless. Or treat it as an opportunity to order our lives the way we want. We could stop inventing bullshit, low-paying, wasteful jobs that contribute to cycles of poverty and environmental degradation. We could slash the number of hours we work and spend time with people and pursuits we love.

We have been taught to think of this scenario as a fantasy. Or, as Buckminster Fuller declared in 1970—on the threshold of the “Malthusian-Darwinian” wave of neoliberal thought to come—“We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery…. He must justify his right to exist.” In current parlance, every person must somehow “add value” to shareholders’ portfolios. The shareholders themselves are under no obligation to return the favor.

What about adding value to our own lives? “The true business of people," says Fuller, "should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.” Against the “specious notion” that everyone should have to make a wage to live--this "nonsense of earning a living"--he takes a more magnanimous view: “It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest," who then may go on to make millions of small breakthroughs of their own.

He may have sounded overconfident at the time. But fifty years later, we see engineers, developers, and analysts of all kinds proclaiming the coming age of automation in our lifetimes, with a majority of jobs to be fully or partially automated in 10-15 years. It is a technological breakthrough capable of dispensing with huge numbers of people, unless its benefits are widely shared. The corporate world sticks its head in the sand and issues guidelines for retraining, a solution that will still leave masses unemployed. No matter the state of the most recent jobs report, serious losses in nearly every sector, especially manufacturing and service work, are unavoidable.

The jobs we invent have changed since Fuller’s time, become more contingent and less secure. But the obsession with creating them, no matter their impact or intent, has only grown, a runaway delusion no one can seem to stop. Should we fear automation? Only if we collectively decide the current course of action is all there is, that “everybody has to earn a living”—meaning turn a profit—or drop dead. As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—echoing Fuller—put it recently at SXSW, “we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem…. We should not be haunted by the specter of being automated out of work.”

“We should be excited about automation,” she went on, “because what it could potentially mean is more time to educate ourselves, more time creating art, more time investing in and investigating the sciences.” However that might be achieved, through subsidized health, education, and basic services, new New Deal and Civil Rights policies, a Universal Basic Income, or some creative synthesis of all of the above, it will not produce a utopia—no political solution is up that task. But considering the benefits of subsidizing our humanity, and the alternative of letting its value decline, it seems worth a shot to try what economist Bill Black calls the "progressive policy core," which, coincidentally, happens to be "centrist in terms of the electorate's preferences."

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Librarian Honors a Dying Tree by Turning It Into a Little Free Library

And then she said to Annika, "Why don't you feel in that old tree stump? One practically always finds things in old tree stumps." 

- Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren 

Remember that other classic of children's literature, wherein a boy runs from the city to a secluded mountain, taking up residence in an old tree he hollows into a cozy shelter?

Public librarian and artist Sharalee Armitage Howard’s Little Free Library is a bit like that, except there was no running involved.

When the venerable and ailing cottonwood in her Coeur d’Alene front yard began dropping branches on cars parked below, Howard faced the inevitable. But rather than chop the tree even with the ground, she arranged with the removal crew to leave a considerable amount of stump intact.

Then, in a Pippi Longstocking-ish move, she filled it with books for her neighbors and strangers to discover.

The interior has a snug, woodland vibe, worthy of Beatrix Potter or Alison Uttley, with tidy shelves, soft lighting, and a shingled roof to protect the contents from the elements.

Ever since December, when Howard posted photos to social media, the fairytale-like structure has been engendering epic amounts of global goodwill.

What a beautiful way to preserve and honor a tree that stood for well over a century.

One of the few naysayers is Reddit user discerningpervert, who is perhaps not giving voice to the Lorax, so much as Thalia, Muse of Comedy, when he writes:

It's like a house of horrors for trees. Inside the corpse of their former comrade are the processed remnants of their treebrothers and treesisters.

A literal Treehouse of Horror...

Visit Howard’s Little Free Library (charter #8206) the next time you're in Idaho. Or install one of your own.

(Those with trees to throw at the cause may want to begin with the stump hollowing tutorial below.)

via Twisted Sifter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How a Word Enters the Dictionary: A Quick Primer

Given that you’re reading this on the Internet, we presume you'll be able to define many of the over 800 words that were added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2018:

biohacking

bougie

bingeable

guac

hangry

Latinx

mocktail

zoodles

But what about some of the humdingers lexicographer Kory Stamper, former associate editor for Merriam-Webster and author of Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, unleashes in the above video?

prescriptivism

descriptivism

sprachgefühl

etymological fallicist

(Bonus: bird strike)

And here we thought we were fluent in our native tongue. Face palm, to use another newish entry and an example of descriptivism. (It’s when the dictionary follows the culture’s lead, according novelty its due by officially recognizing words that have entered the parlance, rather than prescribing the way citizens should be speaking.)

To hear Stamper tell it, dictionary writing is a dream gig for readers as well as word lovers.

Part of every day is spent reading, flagging any unfamiliar words that may pop up for further research.

Did teenage slang give rise to it?

Was it born of business trends or tech industry advances?

Stamper is adamant that language is not fixed, but rather a living organism. Words go in and out of fashion, and take on meanings beyond the ones they sported when first included in the dictionary. (Have a look at “extra” to see some evolutionary effects of the English language and back it up with a peek inside the Urban Dictionary.)

Before a word passes dictionary muster, it must meet three criteria: it must have crossed into widespread use, it seems likely to stick around for a while, and it must have some sort of substantive meaning, as opposed to being known solely for its length (“antidisestablishmentarianism”), or some other structural wonder.

“Iouea” contains all five regular vowels and no other letters. The fact that it exists to describe a genus of sea sponges may seem somewhat beside the point to all but marine biologists.

What new words will enter the lexicon in 2019?

Perhaps we should look to the past. We set Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler dial back 100 years to discover the words that debuted in 1919. There’s an abundance of goodies here, some of whose WWI-era context has already expanded to accommodate modern meaning (anti-stress, fanboy, superpimp, unbuffered). Readers, care to take a stab at freshening up some other candidates:

apple-knocker

buckshee

capeskin

cultigen

gametophore

interrogee

micromethod

neuroprotective

outgas

prereturn

putsch

scenarist

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City January 14 as host of Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Public Domain Day Is Finally Here!: Copyrighted Works Have Entered the Public Domain Today for the First Time in 21 Years

Earlier this year we informed readers that thousands of works of art and entertainment would soon enter the public domain—to be followed every year by thousands more. That day is nigh upon us: Public Domain Day, January 1, 2019. At the stroke of midnight, such beloved classics as Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Yes! We Have No Bananas” will become the common property of the people, to be quoted at length or in full anywhere when the copyright expires on work produced in 1923. Then, 1924 will expire in 2020, 1925 in 2021, and so on and so forth.

It means that “hundreds of thousands of books, musical compositions, paintings, poems, photographs and films” will become freely available to distribute, remix, and remake, as Glenn Fleishman writes at Smithsonian. “Any middle school can produce Theodore Pratt’s stage adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and any historian can publish Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis with her own extensive annotations… and any filmmaker can remake Cecil B. DeMille’s original The Ten Commandments.”

Those are just a few ideas. See more extensive lists of hits and obscurities from 1923 at our previous post and come up with your own creative adaptations. The possibilities are vast and possibly world changing, in ways both decidedly good and arguably quite bad. Teachers may photocopy thousands of pages without fear of prosecution; scholars may quote freely, artists may find deep wells of inspiration. And we may also see “Frost’s immortal ode to winter used in an ad for snow tires.”

Such crassness aside, this huge release from copyright heralds a cultural sea change—the first time such a thing has happened in 21 years due to a 20-year extension of the copyright term in 1998, in a bill sponsored by Sonny Bono at the urging of the Walt Disney company. The legislation, aimed at protecting Mickey Mouse, created a “bizarre 20-year hiatus between the release of works from 1922 and 1923.” It is fascinating to consider how a government-mandated marketing decision has affected our understanding of history and culture.

The novelist Willa Cather called 1922 the year “the world broke in two,” the start of a great literary, artistic and cultural upheaval. In 1922, Ulysses by James Joyce and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” were published, and the Harlem Renaissance blossomed with the arrival of Claude McKay’s poetry in Harlem Shadows. For two decades those works have been in the public domain, enabling artists, critics and others to burnish that notable year to a high gloss in our historical memory. In comparison, 1923 can feel dull.

That year, however, marked the film debut of Marlene Dietrich, the publication of modernist landmarks like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Jean Toomer’s Cane and far too many more influential works to name here. Find several more at Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain,  Lifehacker, Indiewire, and The Atlantic and have a very happy Public Domain Day.

Public domain films and books will be added to ever-growing collections:

1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.

800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Behold the Original Deck of Oblique Strategies Cards, Handwritten by Brian Eno Himself

"Honor thy error as a hidden intention." "Work at a different speed." "Try faking it!" These suggestions will sound familiar to everyone who's ever flipped through the deck of cards known as Oblique Strategies. You can now do that digitally, of course, but Oblique Strategies remains an essentially physical experience, one whose shuffling and drawing reminds the user that they're drawing from the well of chance for a way to break them through a creative impasse or just rethink part of a project. It also began as thoroughly a physical experience, invented by producer-artist-ambient musician Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt, who first came up with them in the pre-digital days of 1974.

Back then, writes Dangerous Minds' Martin Schneider, the concept for Eno and Schmidt's "set of 115 cards with elliptical imperatives designed to spark in the user creative connections unobtainable through regular modes of work" emerged as a form of "radical intervention with roots in Eastern philosophy."

Having first come on the market in the 1970s, Oblique Strategies has gone through several different production runs, usually packaged in handsome boxes with the deck's name emblazoned in gold. "The first four editions are out of print and collector’s items (and priced to match). The 5th edition is currently available from Eno’s website for £30 (about $50). In 2013 a limited 6th edition of 500 numbered sets were available but quickly sold out."

But it seems that the very first set of Oblique Strategies, featured in Schneider's post, is unavailable at any price. Written in Eno's own hand, sometimes cursive and sometimes block, on cards with a wooden-looking texture and without the rounded corners that characterize the commercial version, these first Oblique Strategies include "Don't be frightened to display your talents," "If a thing can be said, it can be said simply," and "Do we need holes?" Those who have followed Eno's work will surely appreciate in particular the card that says to "use non-musicians," "non-musician" being one of Eno's preferred titles for himself, especially when working in a musical capacity. The total package of Oblique Strategies may have grown more refined over the years, but this handmade first set does have a certain immediacy, and also, in a sense, the imprimatur of history: after all, they worked for Brian Eno.

via Dangerous Minds

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Classic Radiohead Songs Re-Imagined as a Sci-Fi Book, Pulp Fiction Magazine & Other Nostalgic Artifacts

When we first checked in with artist and screenwriter Todd Alcott, he was immortalizing the work of stars who hit their stride in the 70s and 80s, as highly convincing pulp novel and magazine covers inspired by their most famous songs and lyrics. David Bowie’s “Young Americans” yields an East of Eden-like blonde couple reclining in the grass. Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” becomes an erotically violent, or violently erotic, magazine that ain’t fooling around.

Next, we took a look at Alcott’s series of pulp covers drawn from the work of Mr. Bob Dylan, bona fide godfather of classic rock, a period that gets a lion’s share of covers in Alcott’s imaginative Etsy rack, alongside other new wave and punk bands like The Clash, The Smiths, and Joy Division. Looking at these devoted tributes to musical giants of yore, rendered in adoring tributes to an even earlier era’s aesthetic, produces the kind of “of course!” reaction that makes Alcott’s work so enjoyable.

After all, pulp magazines and books are perhaps as responsible for the counterculture as LSD, with their proudly sexy poses, overheated teen fantasies, and bondage gear. (Prince gets his own series, a true joy.) But Alcott has moved on to a crop of artists who first appeared in the 90s class of alternative bands—from PJ Harvey, to Fiona Apple, to Nirvana, to Neutral Milk Hotel, to, as you can see here, Radiohead, the most long-lived and innovative stars of the era.

How well does Alcott's approach work with artists who hit the scene when pulp fiction turned into Pulp Fiction, appropriated in a winking, expletive-filled splatter-fest that didn’t, technically, require its audience to know anything about pulp fiction? You'll notice that Alcott has taken a novel approach to the concept in many cases (reimagining PJ Harvey’s “This is Love!” as a 50s grindhouse flick, another genre that has been heavily Tarantino-ized).

He converts Radiohead’s “Kid A” into that most treasured publication for futon-surfing hipsters circa 2000, the IKEA catalog. “Videotape” manifests in literal fashion as one of the oughties’ many objects of consumer electronics nostalgia, the 120-minute VHS. And “Myxomatosis,” from 2003’s Hail to the Thief, appears as a 1970s cat book, an artifact many Radiohead fans at the turn of the millennium might treasure as both an ironic Tumblr goof and a poignant reminder of childhood.

The Radiohead series does not fully abandon the pulp look—“Karma Police,” for example, gets the detective magazine treatment. But it does lean more heavily on later-20th century productions, like the 70s sci-fi cover of “Paranoid Android,” clearly inspired by Michael Crichton’s Westworld. Moon-Shaped Pool’s “Burn the Witch,” on the other hand, looks like a classic 50s Hammer Horror poster, but with a nod to Robin Hardy’s 1973 Wicker Man. (Both Crichton and Hardy have likewise been re-imagined for audiences who may never have seen the originals.)

Perhaps the least interesting of Alcott’s riffs on the Radiohead catalog, “Jigsaw Falling into Place,” goes right for the obvious, though its idyllic, Bob Ross-like scene strikes a dissonant chord in illustrating a song that references closed circuit cameras and sawn-off shotguns. Speaking of obvious, maybe it seemed too on the nose to turn “Creep” into creepy pulp erotica. Still, I wonder how Alcott resisted. View and purchase in handmade print form all of Alcott’s songs-as-book covers, etc. at Etsy.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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