The Vincent van Gogh “Starry Night” LEGO Set Is Now Available: It’s Created in Collaboration with MoMA

Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night is one of the most popular and easily recognized paintings on earth. If you haven’t seen it person, you’ve probably seen it reproduced on a postcard, a tote bag, or a t-shirt.

Musician Sheldon Clarke was a Starry Night virgin when he started working as a security officer at the Museum of Modern Art:

I knew nothing about Vincent or Starry Night before I started working here. And I remember the first time I stood at that painting…first of all, I was so amazed at the reaction of the public. There was always a group of people just fighting to look at it or take pictures or take selfies and I was just curious to know like, who is this painter and why is everyone so excited to see this piece?

Now, Clarke is sufficiently well versed to hold forth on both the nature of the artwork and circumstances in which the artist created it. He is, with Senior Paintings Conservator Anny Aviram,  Associate Curator Cara Manes, and Robert Kastler, director of Imaging and Visual Resources, one of four MoMA staffers to give some context, while trying their hands at the new Starry Night LEGO set.

A collaboration between MoMA and LEGO, the set reinterprets Van Gogh’s thick impasto brushwork in 2316 tiny plastic bricks, including a mini figure of the artist, equipped with paintbrush, palette, easel, and an adjustable arm for positioning him at sufficient distance to gain perspective on his world famous work.

The set is the winning entry in a LEGO Ideas competition. Designer Truman Cheng, a 25-year-old LEGO fan and PhD candidate focusing on  medical robotics and magnetic controlled surgical endoscopes. He had long wanted to render The Starry Night in LEGO, bu its execution required a lightbulb moment:

One day, I was just playing with LEGO parts, and I realized that stacking LEGO plates together at random intervals looks a lot like van Gogh’s iconic brush strokes. I couldn’t help but wonder what the full painting would look like with this build style.

As Aviram and Kastler point out, the set cleaves faithfully to Van Gogh’s limited palette. Some LEGO fans report that building up the blue background layers is the most challenging aspect of assembling the 11”x14.5” kit:

I’m 54 and the colors, being kind of close, were playing games with my eyes. LOL This is my favorite LEGO of all time! In closing, if you haven’t heard the song, Vincent  by Don McLean, I suggest you take a listen to this song as you stare at this LEGO masterpiece.

Order LEGO’s Vincent van Gogh – The Starry Night set – currently on back order – from LEGO or from MoMA’s design store.

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Download Vincent van Gogh’s Collection of 500 Japanese Prints, Which Inspired Him to Create “the Art of the Future”

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Ergonomics Experts Explain How to Set Up Your Desk

Ergonomics aren’t a joke, Jim. – Dwight Schrute, The Office

Technological innovations are snowballing faster than ever in the third decade of the 21st-century. A home office set-up that would have been cause for pride in 2019 seems woefully inadequate now.

Just ask anyone whose desk job pivoted to virtual in March of 2020.

So, perhaps don’t take physical therapist’s Jon Cinkay’s nearly three year old advice in the above Wall Street Journal video as gospel, but rather as a chance to check in with your carpal tunnels, your aching neck and back, and your favorite refurbished office furniture outlet.

Cinkay assumes that your desk is a standard 29 – 30” tall, which is not the case here, but okay…

Our bodies’ unique dimensions mean that no desk can be a one-size-fits-all proposition, and Cinkay makes a robust case for making modifications:

1. Adjust your desk chair

Cinkay recommends adjusting the seat height until your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle when your fingers are on the keyboard. (As of this writing, keyboards have not yet become obsolete.)

In a 2020 article for the Hospital of Special Surgery, he also recommends making sure your chair’s armrests can fit under your desk to avoid postural compromises when reaching for your keyboard or mouse.

He also wisely advises looking for a chair with a minimum 30-day warranty so you don’t get stuck with an expensive mistake.

2. Consider a footstool

If cranking your desk chair to the perfect height leaves your feet dangling, you’ll need a footstool to help your knees maintain a proper 90-degree bend. If you can’t invest in a high tech adjustable footstool, a ream of paper will do in a pinch.

Tech expert David Zhang, who we’ll hear from soon below, rests his cute striped socks on a yoga mat.

Who among us does not have dozens of things that could be pressed into service as a footstool?

I am left to ponder the fate of the decorative needlepointed footstools my late grandmother and her sisters scattered around their living rooms.

Can an actual footstool be considered a footstool hack?

3. Adjust the height of your monitor 

To avoid neck pain, use a monitor stand to position the top of the screen level with your eyes. If you’re working with a laptop, you’ll need a stand, a separate keyboard and and a mouse.

Cinkay’s monitor stand hack is – you guessed it – a ream of paper.

Mine is 5000 Years of the Art of India which is about the same thickness as a ream of paper and was in easy reach at the library where I work.

To judge by some of the comments on Cinkay’s Wall Street Journal video, his keyboard dates to the Stone Age.

Whatever his keyboard vintage, the aforementioned article did suggest gel wrist rests to relieve pressure on the sensitive carpal tunnel area, but watch out! Zhang is not a fan!

4. Get a Headset

Leaving aside the fact that the phone in question appears to be a landline, a headset allows you to keep your head on straight, thus minimizing neck and shoulder pain.

5. Remember that you’re not chained to your desk

Of all the ergonomic advice offered above, this seems likeliest to remain evergreen.

Take a snack break, a water break, a bathroom break, and while you’re at it toss in a couple of the stretches Cinkay recommends.

(The Mayo Clinic has more, including our favorite shoulder stretch.)

Zhang’s desk-centric video was uploaded in 2017, when keyboard trays were already becoming a relic of a bygone era. 

As mentioned, he’s anti-wrist rest. If your wrists are in need of support, and they are, get a palm rest!

Zhang’s also critical of drawers and – unusual for 2017 – standing desks though like Cirkay, he’s a big fan of standing up and moving around.

His video description includes some common sense, ass-covering encouragement for viewers with irregular symptoms or pain to seek professional help. We think this means medical professional, though unsurprisingly, ergonomic assessment is a fast growing field. It’s expensive but possibly costs less in the long run than rushing out to buy whatever a stranger on the internet tells you to.

To that end, we appreciate Zhang’s transparency regarding his channel’s participation in the Amazon Services LLC Associates affiliate advertising program.

Caveat emptor!

Related Content 

Why Sitting Is The New Smoking: An Animated Explanation

Who Wrote at Standing Desks? Kierkegaard, Dickens and Ernest Hemingway Too

Behold the Elaborate Writing Desks of 18th Century Aristocrats

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Rembrandt Book Bracelet: Behold a Functional Bracelet Featuring 1400 Rembrandt Drawings

Admittedly jewelry is not one of our areas of expertise, but when we hear that a bracelet costs €10,000, we kind of expect it to have a smattering of diamonds.

Designers Lyske Gais and Lia Duinker are getting that amount for a wristlet comprised chiefly of five large paper sheets printed with high res images downloaded free from the Rijksmuseum‘s extensive digital archive of Rembrandt drawings and etchings.

Your average pawnbroker would probably consider its 18-karat gold clasp, or possibly the custom-made wooden box in which it can be stored when not in use the most precious thing about this ornament.

An ardent bibliophile or art lover is perhaps better equipped to see the book bracelet’s value.

Each gilt edged page – 1400 in all – features an image of a hand, sourced from 303 downloaded Rembrandt works.

An illustration on the designers’ Duinker and Dochters website details the painstaking process whereby the bookbracelet takes shape in 8-page sections, or signatures, cross stitched tightly alongside each other on a paper band. Put it on, and you can flip through Rembrandt hands, Rolodex-style. When you want to do the dishes or take a shower, just pack it flat into that custom box.

Gais and Duinker also include an index, which is handy for those times when you don’t feel like hunting and pecking around your own wrist in search of a hand that appeared in the Flute Player or  Christ crucified between the two murderers.

The Rembrandt’s Hands and a Lion’s Paw bracelet, titled like a book and published in a limited edition of 10, nabbed first prize in the 2015 Rijksstudio Awards, a competition that challenges designers to create work inspired by the Rijksmuseum’s collection.

(2015’s second prize went to an assortment of conserves and condiments that harkened to Johannes Hannot’s 1668 Still Life with Fruit. 2014’s winner was a palette of eyeshadow and some eyeliners inspired by Jan Adam Kruseman’s 1833 Portrait of Alida Christina Assink and a Leendert van der Cooghen sketch.)

But what about that special art loving bibliophile who already has everything, including a Rembrandts Hands and a Lions Paw boekarmband?

Maybe you could get them Collier van hondjes, Gais and Duinker’s follow up to the book bracelet, a rubber choker with an attached 112-page book pendant showcasing Rembrandt dogs sourced from various museum’s digital collections.

Purchase Rembrandt’s Hands and a Lions Paw limited edition book bracelet here.

And embark on making your own improbable thing inspired by a high res image in the Rijksmuseum‘s Rijks Studio here.

via Colossal/Neatorama

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and creator, most recently of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Japanese Researcher Sleeps in the Same Location as Her Cat for 24 Consecutive Nights!

Cross cat napping with bed hopping and you might end up having an “adventure in comfort” similar to the one that informs student Yuri Nakahashi‘s thesis for Tokyo’s Hosei University.

For 24 consecutive nights, Nakahashi forwent the comforts of her own bed in favor of a green sleeping bag, unfurled in whatever random location one of her five pet cats had chosen as its sleeping spot that evening.

(The choice of which cat would get the pleasure of dictating each night’s sleeping bag coordinates was also randomized.)

As the owner of five cats, Nakahashi presumably knew what she was signing up for…


Cats rack out atop sofa backs, on stairs, and under beds…and so did Nakahashi.

Her photos suggest she logged a lot of time on a bare wooden floor.

A FitBit monitored the duration and quality of time spent asleep, as well as the frequency with which she awakened during the night.

She documented the physical and psychological effects of this experiment in an interactive published by the Information Processing Society of Japan.

She reports that she eagerly awaited the revelation of each night’s coordinates, and that even when her sleep was disrupted by her pets’ middle of the night grooming routines, bunking next to them had a “relaxing effect.”

Meanwhile, our research suggests that the same experiment would awaken a vastly different response in a different human subject, one suffering from ailurophobia, say, or severe allergies to the proteins in feline saliva, urine, and dander.

What’s really surprising about Nakahashi’s itinerant, and apparently pleasure-filled undertaking is how little difference there is between her average sleep score during the experiment and her average sleep score from the 20 days preceding it.

At left, an average sleep score of 84.2 for the 20 days leading up to experiment. At right, an average sleep score 83.7 during the experiment.

Nakahashi’s entry for the YouFab Global Creative Awards, a prize for “work that attempts a dialogue that transcends the boundaries of species, space, and time” reflects the playful spirit she brought to her slightly off-kilter experiment:

 Is it possible to add diversity to the way we enjoy sleep? Let’s think about food. In addition to the taste and nutrition of the food, each meal is a special experience with diversity depending on the people you are eating with, the atmosphere of the restaurant, the weather, and many other factors. In order to bring this kind of enjoyment to sleep, we propose an “adventure in comfort” in which the cat decides where to sleep each night, away from the fixed bedroom and bed. This project is similar to going out to eat with a good friend at a restaurant, where the cat guides you to sleep.

She notes that traditional beds have an immobility owing to “their physical weight and cultural concepts such as direction.”

This suggests that her work could be of some benefit to humans in decidedly less fanciful, involuntary situations, whose lack of housing leads them to sleep in unpredictable, and inhospitable locations.

Nakahashi’s time in the green sleeping bag inspired her to create the below model of a more flexible bed, using a polypropylene bag, rice and nylon film.

We have created a prototype of a double-layered inflatable bed that has a pouch structure that inflates with air and a jamming structure that becomes hard when air is compressed. The pouch side softly receives the body when inflated. The jamming side becomes hard when the air is removed, and can be firmly fixed in an even space. The air is designed to move back and forth between the two layers, so that when not in use, the whole thing can be rolled up softly for storage. 

It’s hard to imagine the presence of a pussycat doing much to ameliorate the anxiety of those forced to flee their familiar beds with little warning, but we can see how Nakahashi’s design might bring a degree of physical relief when sleeping in subway stations, basement corners, and other harrowing locations.

Via Spoon & Tomago

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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The Iconic Design of the Doomsday Clock Was Created 75 Years Ago: It Now Says We’re 100 Seconds to Midnight

Image via The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Last year, the fates handed the New York Times‘ Maria Cramer an enviably striking lede: “Humanity is 100 seconds away from total annihilation. Again.” That we all know immediately what she was writing about speaks to the power of graphic design. Specifically, it speaks to the power of graphic design as practiced by Martyl Langsdorf, who happened to be married to ex-Manhattan Project physicist Alexander Langsdorf. This connection got her the gig of creating a cover for the June 1947 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. She came up with a simple image: the upper-left corner of a clock, its hands at seven minutes to midnight.

Asked later why she set the clock to that time in particular, Langsdorf explained that “it looked good to my eye.” That quote appears in a post at the Bulletin addressing frequently asked questions about what’s now known as the Doomsday Clock, “a design that warns the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making. It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet.” In the 75 years since its introduction, its minute hand has been moved backward eight times and forward sixteen times; currently it still stands where Cramer reported it as having remained last January, at 100 seconds to midnight. 

To the public of 1947, “midnight” signified above all the prospect of humanity’s self-destruction through the use of nuclear weapons. But as technology itself has advanced and proliferated, the means of auto-annihilation have grown more diverse. This year’s Doomsday Clock statement cites not just nukes but carbon emissions, infectious diseases, and “internet-enabled misinformation and disinformation.” Earlier this month, the Bulletin reminded us that even as 2022 began, “we called out Ukraine as a potential flashpoint in an increasingly tense international security landscape. For many years, we and others have warned that the most likely way nuclear weapons might be used is through an unwanted or unintended escalation from a conventional conflict.”

Now that “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought this nightmare scenario to life,” many have found themselves glancing nervously at the Doomsday Clock once again. This also happened after the election of Donald Trump, which prompted the Vox video above on the Clock’s history and purpose. Its iconic status, as celebrated in the new book The Doomsday Clock at 75, has long outlasted the Cold War, but the device itself isn’t without its critics. Bulletin co-founder Eugene Rabinowitch once articulated the latter as meant “to preserve civilization by scaring men into rationality,” a somewhat controversial intention. One could also raise objections to using an inherently linear and unidirectional concept like time to represent a probability resulting from human action. Yet somehow more technically suitable images — “100 centimeters from the edge,” say — don’t have quite the same ring.

Related content:

19th-Century Skeleton Alarm Clock Reminded People Daily of the Shortness of Life: An Introduction to the Memento Mori

J. Robert Oppenheimer Explains How He Recited a Line from Bhagavad Gita — “Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds” — Upon Witnessing the First Nuclear Explosion

The Night Ed Sullivan Scared a Nation with the Apocalyptic Animated Short, A Short Vision (1956)

53 Years of Nuclear Testing in 14 Minutes: A Time Lapse Film by Japanese Artist Isao Hashimoto

Protect and Survive: 1970s British Instructional Films on How to Live Through a Nuclear Attack

How Clocks Changed Humanity Forever, Making Us Masters and Slaves of Time

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Organized Chaos!: Watch 33 Videos Showing How Saturday Night Live Gets Made Each Week

Who do you think of when you think of Saturday Night Live?

The original cast? 

Creator Lorne Michaels?

Whoever hosted last week’s episode?

What about the guy who makes and holds the cue cards?

Wally Feresten is just one of the backstage heroes to be celebrated in Creating Saturday Night Live, a fascinating look at how the long-running television sketch show comes together every week.

Like many of those interviewed Feresten is more or less of a lifer, having come aboard in 1990 at the age of 25.

He estimates that he and his team of 8 run through some 1000 14” x 22” cards cards per show. Teleprompters would save trees, but the possibility of technical issues during the live broadcast presents too big of a risk.

This means that any last minute changes, including those made mid-broadcast, must be handled in a very hands on way, with corrections written in all caps over carefully applied white painter’s tape or, worst case scenario, on brand new cards.

(After a show wraps, its cards enjoy a second act as dropcloths for the next week’s painted sets.)

Nearly every sketch requires three sets of cue cards, so that the cast, who are rarely off book due to the frequent changes, can steal glances to the left, right and center.

As the department head, Feresten is partnered with each week’s guest host, whose lines are the only ones to be written in black. Betty White, who hosted in 2010 at the age of 88, thanked him in her 2011 autobiography.

Surely that’s worth his work-related arthritic shoulder, and the recurrent nightmares in which he arrives at Studio 8H just five minutes before showtime to find that all 1000 cue cards are blank.

Costumes have always been one of Saturday Night Live’s flashiest pleasures, running the gamut from Coneheads and a rapping Cup o’Soup to an immaculate recreation of the white pantsuit in which Vice President Kamala Harris delivered her victory speech a scant 3 hours before the show aired.

“A costume has a job,” wardrobe supervisor Dale Richards explains:

It has to tell a story before (the actors) open their mouth…as soon as it comes on camera, it should give you so much backstory.

And it has to cleave to some sort of reality and truthfulness, even in a sketch as outlandish as 2017’s Henrietta & the Fugitive, starring host Ryan Gosling as a detective in a film noir style romance. The gag is that the dame is a chicken (cast member Aidy Bryant.)

Richards cites actress Bette Davis as the inspiration for the chicken’s look:

Because you’re not going to believe it if the detective couldn’t actually fall in love with her. She has to be very feminine, so we gave her Bette Davis bangs and long eyelashes and a beautiful bonnet, so the underpinnings were very much like an actress in a movie, although she did have a chicken costume on.

The number of quick costume changes each performer must make during the live broadcast helps determine the sketches’ running order.

Some of the breakneck transformations are handled by Richards’ sister, Donna, who once beat the clock by piggybacking host Jennifer Lopez across the studio floor to the changing area where a well-coordinated crew swished her out of her opening monologue’s skintight dress and skyscraper heels and into her first costume.

That’s one example of the sort of traffic the 4-person crane camera crew must battle as they hurtle across the studio to each new set. Camera operator John Pinto commands from atop the crane’s counterbalanced arm.

Those swooping crane shots of the musical guests, opening monologue and goodnights (see below) are a Saturday Night Live tradition, a part of its iconic look since the beginning.

Get to know other backstage workers and how they contribute to this weekly high wire act in a 33 episode Creating Saturday Night playlist, all on display below:

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Google’s UX Design Professional Certificate: 7 Courses Helps Prepare Students for an Entry-Level Job in 6 Months

During the pandemic, Google launched a series of Career Certificates that will “prepare learners for an entry-level role in under six months.” One such certificate focuses on User Experience Design, or what’s called UX Design, the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful experiences to users.

Offered on the Coursera platform, the User Experience (UX) Design Professional Certificate features seven courses, including the Foundations of User Experience, Start the UX Design Process, Build Wireframes and Low-Fidelity Prototypes, and Conduct UX Research and Test Early Concepts. In total, this program “includes over 200 hours of instruction and hundreds of practice-based activities and assessments that simulate real-world UX design scenarios and are critical for success in the workplace. The content is highly interactive and developed by Google employees with decades of experience in UX design.” Upon completion, students can directly apply for jobs with Google and over 130 U.S. employers, including Walmart, Best Buy, and Astreya. You can start a 7-day free trial and explore the courses. If you continue beyond that, Google/Coursera will charge $39 USD per month. That translates to about $235 after 6 months.

Explore the User Experience (UX) Design Professional Certificate by watching the video above. Learn more about the overall Google career certificate initiative here. And find other Google professional certificates here.

The new certificates have been added to our collection, 200 Online Certificate & Microcredential Programs from Leading Universities & Companies.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

Related Content:

Google Introduces 6-Month Career Certificates, Threatening to Disrupt Higher Education with “the Equivalent of a Four-Year Degree”

Coursera and Google Launch an Online Certificate Program to Help Students Become IT Professionals & Get Attractive Jobs

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Discover Khipu, the Ancient Incan Record & Writing System Made Entirely of Knots

Khipus, the portable information archives created by the Inca, may stir up memories of 1970s macrame with their long strands of intricately knotted, earth-toned fibers, but their function more closely resembled that of a densely plotted computerized spreadsheet.

As Cecilia Pardo-Grau, lead curator of the British Museum’s current exhibition Peru: a journey in time explains in the above Curators Corner episode, khipus were used to keep track of everything from inventories and census to historical narratives, using a system that assigned meaning to the type and position of knot, spaces between knots, cord length, fiber color, etc.

Much of the information preserved within khipus has yet to be deciphered by modern scholars, though the Open Khipu Repository — computational anthropologist Jon Clindaniel‘s open-source database — makes it possible to compare the patterns of hundreds of khipus residing in museum and university collections.

Even in the Incan Empire, few were equipped to make sense of a khipu. This task fell to quipucamayocs, high born administrative officials trained since childhood in the creation and interpretation of these organic spreadsheets.

Fleet messengers known as chaskis transported khipus on foot between administrative centers, creating an information superhighway that predates the Internet by some five centuries. Khipus’ sturdy organic cotton or native camelid fibers were well suited to withstanding both the rigors of time and the road.

A 500-year-old composite khipu that found its way to British Museum organics conservator Nicole Rode prior to the exhibition was intact, but severely tangled, with a brittleness that betrayed its age. Below, she describes falling under the khipu’s spell, during the painstaking process of restoring it to a condition whereby researchers could attempt to glean some of its secrets.

Visit Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino’s website to learn more about khipu in a series of fascinating short articles that accompanied their groundbreaking 2003 exhibit QUIPU: counting with knots in the Inka Empire.

via Aeon.

Related Content: 

How the Inca Used Intricately-Knotted Cords, Called Khipu, to Write Their Histories, Send Messages & Keep Records

Take a Virtual Tour of Machu Picchu, One of the New 7 Wonders of the World

Ancient Maps that Changed the World: See World Maps from Ancient Greece, Babylon, Rome, and the Islamic World

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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