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Young Me/Now Me: funny, adorable, poignant, delightful
March 24, 2010, 3:20 pm
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Love this. The ravages of time, amirite?? Seriously though, it’s kind of fascinating: Young Me/Now Me asks people to send in pictures of themselves when they were younger, as well as replicated versions of those same pictures, taken now.

The interpretation of how exactly that’s done is loose–some are restaged literally even if it’s absurd, while others are updated to carry through the spirit of the picture while making  it appropriate to its new context and circumstances. Some interpret the relationship between “young” and “now” in surprising ways. Many are really sweet and get you thinking about time and change and family and mortality and the great cycle of life.

You can have a lot of fun looking at baby pictures, even if they’re those of strangers.


Libraries turn vending machines into lending machines
March 15, 2010, 10:01 pm
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lending machine

Just yesterday I was lamenting the fact that almost all of the LA Public Library branches are closed on Sundays (where am I going to get my free weekly plane-reads?), and thought that it was a shame that you could return books in dropslots after hours, but not check them out then. That’s when it struck me–a book vending machine would be a great way to get around it–just stock it with a random assortment of books popular and not-so-popular, and have people swipe their library card and make their selection. I was sure this couldn’t have been the first time anyone had thought of this, and a little Googling proved me right.

Library vending machines (more like lending machines! high five!) have found varying iterations globally, each re-purposing the familiar vending machine format more or less slickly. One of the most advanced and comprehensive ones may be the ones used by the southern Chinese city of Shenzen, which makes accessible its 2+ million books and other media (including CDs, DVDs, etc)–and even dispenses library cards–through a fully automated, RFID-powered, round-the-clock self-service system. Just as a Redbox is to DVD rentals, so is the Integrated Library Automation System (ILAS) to library borrowing–patrons may even reserve materials online and receive a text when their item is available in the nearest machine, each of which can hold 400 items at a time. At a cost of approximately $57,000 per machine, the ILAS is a much more cost-effective alternative to building and staffing smaller satellite branches across Shenzen, getting the city more literacy bang for its library buck.

Even simpler versions exist, but even these are not only whimsical but highly utilitarian–certainly more so than the statement-making luxury vending machines we’ve seen around over the past few years. In our case, the machines are a unique tool in service of  public libraries’ mission of literacy and free access to information for all, both in terms of the reach of an individual machine as well as in the cost-effective means of peppering a city (and especially its underserved communities) with many more easy-to-use portals through which to access library stock.

It’s a simple idea but it’s powerful: whether commercially or in public service, the potential (and indeed chief virtue) of such machines is to reach people where they are, when they want it, in a way that is easy, convenient, and intuitive. Library vending machines make literacy more accessible, and that access more timely and relevant. These machines give libraries the chance to reach people in the most relevant and useful moments–in subways, parks, offices, stores, and schools; when they’re waiting, when they’re bored, when they’re curious–allowing people to seize the impulse to read whenever and wherever they most crave the written page.

Paste magazine asks: Is Indie Dead?

Illustration by Samuel Bosma (via Paste)

A must-read for anyone who cares about culture: Paste’s Rachael Maddux asks the question: Is Indie Dead? in the cover story for the magazine’s February issue.

In an incisive and far-ranging analysis Maddux grabs for fistfuls of smoke trying to pin a definition on the word, but nevertheless expertly and wittily charts its history, influence, rise, and fall—explaining, among other things, the advertising-music-culture cross-ramifications of a pervasive sensibility built around precisely its non-pervasiveness.

Read the essay to find out just how the democratization of technology, an Internet that eats its young, morphing music industry models, and cultural co-option (co-option?) of scene have worked together to create (and in some ways, kill) one of the most unstoppable and influential forces in pop culture today: the paradoxically elusive and ubiquitous “indie.”

Text to donate: Red Cross offers quick, easy means to help Haiti
January 13, 2010, 6:40 pm
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Red Cross in Haiti

Make a difference in less time than it takes to get out your checkbook. Simply text the word HAITI to 90999 to have $10 automatically donated to Red Cross earthquake relief efforts in the disaster-struck nation. (The donation is added to your phone bill, easy as that.)

Donation by text is not new—for example, UNICEF’s TAP Project for clean drinking water used it to great results—but it’s effective, and an ingenious way to mobilize people in support of a cause. It’s smart, it’s easy, and it’s immediate—for us as donors and for the recipients and organizations in need of aid. It removes a lot of the obstacles that keep people from donating, making the act of giving almost as convenient as doing nothing at all.

The donation-by-text method capitalizes on the ubiquity of mobile phones (maybe the only thing we really take everywhere with us—even more so than money, as this campaign shrewdly observes) and allows us to seize the generous impulse before it has a chance to fade, or before we just forget.

Beyond just the ease and speed with which the text donation delivery method works is the “price point” of the donation—a mere $10. It’s meaningful and it adds up, but it’s small enough for most of us to donate without much thought. The token default amount of $10 can probably quickly generate—just through ease of donation and sheer grassroots volume of donations—a great deal more money and awareness than a smaller number of larger donations, as with a traditional crisis-response drive. (Of course, those who want to donate more always can—this text feature is not really for them, but for the “casual” donor, the everyman.)

Santa’s wearing green this year: live recycled rent-a-trees
December 16, 2009, 8:46 pm
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Tree Delivery

California landscaper Scott Martin runs The Living Christmas Co., which rents live Christmas trees for the holidays. You just pick out the tree you’d like from his website, and he delivers a potted live tree right to your home. It stays for 2-3 weeks, then he swings by again to pick it up, and it is replanted for the year—until next Christmas.

Started in response to the wastefulness of so many discarded trees lining streets after the holidays, this tree Netflix of sorts is about the same price as your usual tree, but it’s less trouble (I’m sorry, you want to wrestle a tree onto the hood of your car?), less mess (live trees don’t shed), and it makes you feel good about doing your part for the environment, returning live trees safe and sound after the season’s festivities—actually giving you a chance to make good on the compassion and goodwill the holidays are supposed to stand for. Customers can also choose to have the same tree again the next year, a little taller for its nursery hiatus. The socially conscious nature of the business plays out not only in its conservationism, but in other aspects of its business model as well. As the New York Times reports, “The delivery trucks run on biodiesel; the trees are cared for by adults with disabilities; the drivers will pick up donations for Goodwill and used wrapping paper for recycling; and the Web site also sells eco-friendly, fair-trade ornaments.”

Another interesting facet of this live tree rental model is that it brings the tree-ness back to the tree. In its continued growth from year to year, for example, it is a tree, not a cheap holiday prop. It does the things that trees do—it goes in the ground, it grows, it looks and feels and smells like a tree—not just for a few weeks while it collapses systematically into a thatch of needles on your floor, but forever. Noting how people have even taken to naming their trees (making it like a family pet, a tree-foster situation, a loving temporary custodianship—almost animistic in the “take only what you need then return it to the earth respectfully” sort of vibe), it’s cool how this strategy is putting a very fond, sentimental, and personal connection back into something that has become so depersonalized, commercialized, and emotionally distant.

Hey Gen Y, that’s your boyfriend: the evolution of the hipster
December 8, 2009, 2:54 pm
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Evolution of the Hipster

Hero, villain, or jester, the hipster is a ubiquitous, divisive, and influential figure in youth culture. Paste humorously charts the ebb and flow of the hipster identity (if there is such a thing—some claim it’s multifarious and infinitely niche, others it’s homogenous and hollow) over the past decade by calling out a handful of archetypes you’re bound to recognize, many of them perhaps more contemporaneous than Paste’s evolution suggests. It’s almost Hegelian, this reaction and synthesis of culture and counterculture and extra-culture,  the whole fascinating, sometimes-thought-provoking- sometimes-meaningless pastiche of willfully absurd cultural appropriations and retro throwbacks that is hipsterdom.

Craving more old-timey moustaches and ironic tattoos? Laffs aplenty at LATFH.