7-Foot Tall Clown with a Golden Voice Sings Chris Cornell’s “When I’m Down:” A Tribute Filled with Raw Emotion

Back in April, Ayun Halliday gave you a glimpse into the world of "Puddles Pity Party," the 6’8” ‘Sad Clown with the Golden Voice,’ who makes his home in Atlanta, Georgia. And does all kinds of wonderful things--like sing “Pinball Wizard” in the style of Johnny Cash. Don't miss that one. It's pretty spectacular.

In his latest video, Puddles joins up with Matthew Kaminski, organist for the Atlanta Braves, and delivers a tribute to Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, covering his 1999 song "When I'm Down," with a little bit of "What'll I Do" by Irving Berlin mixed in. You won't find another tribute like it. That we can assure you.

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Experts Predict When Artificial Intelligence Will Take Our Jobs: From Writing Essays, Books & Songs, to Performing Surgery and Driving Trucks

Image via Flickr Commons

We know they’re coming. The robots. To take our jobs. While humans turn on each other, find scapegoats, try to bring back the past, and ignore the future, machine intelligences replace us as quickly as their designers get them out of beta testing. We can’t exactly blame the robots. They don’t have any say in the matter. Not yet, anyway. But it’s a fait accompli say the experts. “The promise,” writes MIT Technology Review, “is that intelligent machines will be able to do every task better and more cheaply than humans. Rightly or wrongly, one industry after another is falling under its spell, even though few have benefited significantly so far.”

The question, then, is not if, but “when will artificial intelligence exceed human performance?” And some answers come from a paper called, appropriately, “When Will AI Exceed Human Performance? Evidence from AI Experts.” In this study, Katja Grace of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford and several of her colleagues “surveyed the world’s leading researchers in artificial intelligence by asking them when they think intelligent machines will better humans in a wide range of tasks.”

You can see many of the answers plotted on the chart above. Grace and her co-authors asked 1,634 experts, and found that they “believe there is a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks in 45 years and of automating all human jobs in 120 years.” That means all jobs: not only driving trucks, delivering by drone, running cash registers, gas stations, phone support, weather forecasts, investment banking, etc, but also performing surgery, which may happen in less than 40 years, and writing New York Times bestsellers, which may happen by 2049.

That’s right, AI may perform our cultural and intellectual labor, making art and films, writing books and essays, and creating music. Or so the experts say. Already a Japanese AI program has written a short novel, and almost won a literary prize for it. And the first milestone on the chart has already been reached; last year, Google’s AI AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol, the South Korean grandmaster of Go, the ancient Chinese game “that’s exponentially more complex than chess,” as Cade Metz writes at Wired. (Humane video game design, on the other hand, may have a ways to go yet.)

Perhaps these feats partly explain why, as Grace and the other researchers found, Asian respondents expected the rise of the machines “much sooner than North America.” Other cultural reasons surely abound—likely those same quirks that make Americans embrace creationism, climate-denial, and fearful conspiracy theories and nostalgia by the tens of millions. The future may be frightening, but we should have seen this coming. Sci-fi visionaries have warned us for decades to prepare for our technology to overtake us.

In the 1960s Alan Watts foresaw the future of automation and the almost pathological fixation we would develop for “job creation” as more and more necessary tasks fell to the robots and human labor became increasingly superfluous. (Hear him make his prediction above.) Like many a technologist and futurist today, Watts advocated for Universal Basic Income, a way of ensuring that all of us have the means to survive while we use our newly acquired free time to consciously shape the world the machines have learned to maintain for us.

What may have seemed like a Utopian idea then (though it almost became policy under Nixon), may become a necessity as AI changes the world, writes MIT, “at breakneck speed.”

via Big Think/MIT Technology Review

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

Hayao Miyazaki Picks His 50 Favorite Children’s Books

Once upon a time, books served as the de facto refuge of the “physically weak” child. For animation legend, Hayao Miyazaki, above, they offered an escape from the grimmer realities of post-World War II Japan.

Many of the 50 favorites he selected for a 2010 exhibition honoring publisher Iwanami Shoten's "Boy's Books” series are time-tested Western classics.

Loners and orphans--The Little Prince, The Secret Garden--figure prominently, as do talking animals (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle).


And while it may be a commonly-held publishing belief that boys won’t read stories about girls, the young Miyazaki seemed to have no such bias, ranking Heidi and Laura Ingalls Wilder right alongside Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island’s pirates.

Several of the titles that made the cut were ones he could only have encountered as a grown up, including 1967’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and When Marnie Was There, the latter eventually serving as source material for a Studio Ghibli movie, as did Miyazaki’s top pick, Mary Norton’s The Borrowers.

We invite you to take a nostalgic stroll through Miyazaki’s best-loved children’s books. Readers, how many have you read?

Hayao Miyazaki’s Top 50 Children’s Books

  1. The Borrowers -- Mary Norton
  2. The Little Prince -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  3. Children of Noisy Village -- Astrid Lindgren
  4. When Marnie Was There -- Joan G. Robinson
  5. Swallows and Amazons -- Arthur Ransome
  6. The Flying Classroom -- Erich Kästner
  7. There Were Five of Us -- Karel Poláček
  8. What the Neighbours Did, and Other Stories -- Ann Philippa Pearce
  9. Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates -- Mary Mapes Dodge
  10. The Secret Garden -- Frances Hodgson Burnett
  11. Eagle of The Ninth -- Rosemary Sutcliff
  12. The Treasure of the Nibelungs -- Gustav Schalk
  13. The Three Musketeers -- Alexandre Dumas, père
  14. A Wizard of Earthsea -- Ursula K. Le Guin
  15. Les Princes du Vent -- Michel-Aime Baudouy
  16. The Flambards Series -- K. M. Peyton
  17. Souvenirs entomologiques -- Jean Henri Fabre
  18. The Long Winter -- Laura Ingalls Wilder
  19. A Norwegian Farm -- Marie Hamsun
  20. Heidi -- Johanna Spyri
  21. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer -- Mark Twain
  22. Little Lord Fauntleroy -- Frances Hodgson Burnett
  23. Tistou of the Green Thumbs -- Maurice Druon
  24. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes -- Arthur Conan Doyle
  25. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler -- E. L. Konigsburg
  26. The Otterbury Incident -- Cecil Day-Lewis
  27. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland -- Lewis Carroll
  28. The Little Bookroom -- Eleanor Farjeon
  29. The Forest is Alive or Twelve Months -- Samuil Yakovlevich Marshak
  30. The Restaurant of Many Orders -- Kenji Miyazawa
  31. Winnie-the-Pooh -- A. A. Milne
  32. Nihon Ryōiki -- Kyokai
  33. Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio -- Pu Songling
  34. Nine Fairy Tales: And One More Thrown in For Good Measure -- Karel Čapek
  35. The Man Who Has Planted Welsh Onions -- Kim So-un
  36. Robinson Crusoe -- Daniel Defoe
  37. The Hobbit -- J. R. R. Tolkien
  38. Journey to the West -- Wu Cheng'en
  39. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea -- Jules Verne
  40. The Adventures of the Little Onion -- Gianni Rodari
  41. Treasure Island -- Robert Louis Stevenson
  42. The Ship that Flew -- Hilda Winifred Lewis
  43. The Wind in the Willows -- Kenneth Grahame
  44. The Little Humpbacked Horse -- Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov (Ershoff)
  45. The Little White Horse -- Elizabeth Goudge
  46. The Rose and the Ring -- William Makepeace Thackeray
  47. The Radium Woman -- Eleanor Doorly
  48. City Neighbor, The Story of Jane Addams -- Clara Ingram Judson
  49. Ivan the Fool -- Leo Tolstoy
  50. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle -- Hugh Lofting

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Build Your Own Miniature Sets from Hayao Miyazaki’s Beloved Films: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service & More

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She’ll be appearing onstage in New York City this June as one of the clowns in Paul David Young’s Faust 3. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Large Choir Sings “Black Hole Sun”: A Moving Tribute to Chris Cornell

They paid tribute to Prince last year. Now they're doing the same for Chris CornellChoir!Choir!Choir!–a group that meets weekly and sings their hearts out in Toronto–got together and sang Soundgarden's 1994 hit, "Black Hole Sun." Turn up your speakers, await the goosebumps, and eventually wipe away a tear.

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Sgt. Pepper’s Album Cover Gets Reworked to Remember Icons Lost in 2016

We're just days away from the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And, as we mentioned last week, the BBC has kicked off the celebrations with a series of videos that introduce you to the 60+ figures who appeared in the cardboard collage that graced the album’s iconic cover. Bob Dylan, Edgar Allan Poe, William S. Burroughs, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, HG Wells, Shirley Temple--they all get a video introduction, among others.

Historic as it is, the Pepper cover recently became a good vehicle for remembering the bewildering number of musicians, artists and celebrities who left this mortal coil in 2016. Above you can see an illustration created by Twitter user @christhebarker in the waning days of last year. If you look closely, you can see some thought went into the design. Muhammad Ali, for example, now stands where boxer Sonny Liston did in the original. Find them all in a larger format here.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Consequence of Sound

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An Animated Alan Watts Waxes Philosophical About Time in The Fine Art of Goofing Off, the 1970s “Sesame Street for Grown-Ups”

Time is a measure of energy, a measure of motion. And we have agreed internationally on the speed of the clock. And I want you to think about clocks and watches for a moment. We are of course slaves to them. And you will notice that your watch is a circle, and that it is calibrated, and that each minute, or second, is marked by a hairline which is made as narrow as possible, as yet to be consistent with being visible. 

Alan Watts

However true, that’s a particularly stress-inducing observation from one who was known for his Zen teachings…

The pressure is ameliorated somewhat by Bob McClay's trippy time-based animation, above, narrated by Watts. Putting Mickey Mouse on the face of Big Ben must’ve gone over well with the countercultural youth who eagerly embraced Watts’ Eastern philosophy. And the tangible evidence of real live magic markers will prove a tonic to those who came of age before animation's digital revolution.


The short originally aired as part of the early 70’s series, The Fine Art of Goofing Off, described by one of its creators, the humorist and sound artist, Henry Jacobs, as “Sesame Street for grown-ups.”

Time preoccupied both men.

One of Jacobs’ fake commercials on The Fine Art of Goofing Off involved a pitchman exhorting viewers to stop wasting time at idle pastimes: Log a few extra golden hours at the old grindstone.

A koan-like skit featured a gramophone through which a disembodied voice endlessly asks a stuffed dog, “Can you hear me?” (Jacobs named that as a personal favorite.)

Watts was less punchline-oriented than his friend and eventual in-law, who maintained an archival collection of Watts’ lectures until his own death:

And when we think of a moment of time, when we think what we mean by the word "now”; we think of the shortest possible instant that is here and gone, because that corresponds with the hairline on the watch. And as a result of this fabulous idea, we are a people who feel that we don’t have any present, because the present is instantly vanishing - it goes so quickly. It is always becoming past. And we have the sensation, therefore, of our lives as something that is constantly flowing away from us. We are constantly losing time. And so we have a sense of urgency. Time is not to be wasted. Time is money. And so, because of the tyranny of this thing, we feel that we have a past, and we know who we are in terms of our past. Nobody can ever tell you who they are, they can only tell you who they were. 

Watch a complete episode of The Fine Art of Goofing Off here. Your time will be well spent.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How Baking, Cooking & Other Daily Activities Help Promote Happiness and Alleviate Depression and Anxiety

Image by Beth MacKenzie, via Flickr Commons

Most healthy people practice at least some form of what we call these days “self-care,” whether it be yoga, meditation, running, writing, art, music, therapy, coloring books, or what-have-you. And if you’re functioning tolerably well in the madness of our times, you’re probably dipping regularly into the well of at least one restorative discipline, in addition to whatever larger beliefs you may hold.

But perhaps you feel at loose ends—unable to find the time or money for yoga classes or painting, feeling too restless to sit motionless for half an hour or more a day.... The activities that sustain our psyches should not feel unattainable. One need not be a yogi, Zen monk, marathoner, or Impressionist to find regular fulfilment in life. Perhaps regular, ordinary activities have the power to make us just as happy.


Recent research suggests that tasks such as “knitting, crocheting and jam-making” can “work wonders for wellbeing,” writes Tom Ough at The Telegraph, as can other creative practices like “cooking, baking, performing music, painting, drawing, sketching, digital design and creative writing.” All may have profound effects on emotional health. This list might expand indefinitely to include any hands-on activity with measurable results, from woodworking to beekeeping.

A 2016 study of 658 students at New Zealand’s Otago University found that engaging in small creative pursuits on a daily basis produces enthusiasm and feelings of “flourishing”—“a mental health term describing happiness and meaning.” The results of, say, making a loaf of bread or a scarf, don’t simply benefit us in the moment, but carry over into the future. As the study’s lead author Tamlin Connor notes, “engaging in creative behaviour leads to increases in well-being the next day, and this increased well-being is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day.”

The more we bake, the more we’ll want to bake, the happier we’ll feel.

Does focusing our attention on small, achievable daily tasks lead to the kind of metaphysical fulfilment most people seem to crave—what Viktor Frankl called “man’s search for meaning”? Not necessarily, no. “Recent research suggests,” notes Daisy Grewal at Scientific American, “that while happiness and a sense of meaning often overlap, they also diverge in important and surprising ways.” Frankl may not be wrong about the need for meaning, but even he admitted that seeking it out is not identical to the pursuit of happiness.

In a 2013 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Vohs, Jennifer Aaker, and Emily Garbinsky found that happiness, “flourishing,” or emotional well-being correlate strongly with “satisfying one’s needs and wants” as well as with “being a giver rather than a taker.” Philosophy, politics, religion, and art may seek truth or coherence, but while “concerns with personal identity and expressing the self contributed to meaning,” they have little lasting effect on happiness, as many a philosopher, priest, or poet may tell you. On the other hand, while having comfortable economic means does measurably improve happiness, it does not contribute significantly to a sense of larger purpose (that which, Frankl argued strenuously, can save our lives in times of crisis).

Baumeister and his colleagues obtained their findings by surveying around 400 American adults over a period of three weeks, during which time the participants monitored a variety of daily activities. In one reading of the Otago University study, Daisy Meager at Vice focuses specially on baking as a means to ward off a “shitty mood.” It may be a matter of taste---some may prefer making sauces to cakes. The effects are the same, "a common cure," writes Danny Lewis at Smithsonian, "for stress or feeling down."

Meager points to work done by Julie Ohana, a “culinary therapist” who uses the kitchen to help patients combat “depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.” Vice's Jackson Connor describes his personal experience of how cooking “alleviates symptoms of stress and anxiety almost immediately,” as well as over time. And no less an authority than food theorist Michael Pollan makes the persuasive case for "how cooking can change your life" in the short animated video below (see his full talk at the RSA here).

Further arguing, however, for baking as a special form of “flourishing,” Julie Thomson at HuffPo describes the act as “a productive form of self-expression and communication" and consults with experts like Ohana and Donna Pincus, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, who told Thomson, “Baking has the benefit of allowing people creative expression.” People who may not be natural artists, writers, or musicians. Yet baking is also a kind of problem-solving as well as a creative act, and “actually requires a lot of full attention.”

You have to measure, focus physically on rolling out dough. If you’re focusing on smell and taste, on being present with what you’re creating, that act of mindfulness in that present moment can also have a result in stress reduction.

The reference to mindfulness is apt. (Go ahead and read about a course on “Breaditation,” make fun of it, then try it at home.) I know not a few people who swear they cannot meditate to save their lives, but who will happily spend a couple hours on a Saturday evening baking brioche or plates of cookies. But there’s more to it than the meditative absorption that comes from mindful activity. Baking, says Pincus---and cooking in general---is a form of altruism. “The nice thing about baking,” she ways, “is that you have such a tangible reward at the end and that can feel very beneficial to others.”

So the research suggests that---whatever activities one gravitates toward---finding happiness on a daily basis involves more than using Pinterest boards and magazines to craft a cozy, stylish new life. Though any sustained creative activity may do the trick, we approach closer to lasting happiness as well as greater fulfillment—to meaning—when we direct activity to a “connection with other people” through generosity.

via Scientific American

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

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