The Sartorialist – NYC stylish strangers happily caught by a candid camera

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The Sartorialist by Scott Schuman Penguin Books 2009, 512 pages, 5.2 x 7.4 x 1.6 inches (softcover) $19 Buy a copy on Amazon

Scott Schuman once worked in the fashion industry but found that the outfits that amateurs wore on the streets of New York City to be a lot more interesting than those from famous designers. He began photographing people on the street who caught his eye, and, with their permission, posted their images on his blog, The Sartorialist. His street photos had their own style, and soon fashion followers were happy to be caught by Schumans’s candid camera. Soon The Sartorialist blog became legendary in the fashion world. It was also the first of many photo blogs to feature street fashion – showcasing what people with a personal flair wore everyday. This brick of a book collects the best of The Sartorialist’s first 10 years of images. It works as a one-stop shop of hip clothing designs; it also works as a document of “what they wore” in 2010; and it also works as a cool gallery of contemporary fashion photography. It lacks the richness of the life stories in Humans of New York, but it gains something by focusing so obsessively on the design decisions of creative people. A second volume called The Sartorialist X, takes Schuman outside of New York to other cities of the world. Read the rest

Humans of New York - Photos of random strangers in NYC and their life stories

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Brendon Stanton started photographing random strangers in New York City in 2010. He treated each of them like a celebrity, portraying them in a classy portrait on the street. He then added a little bit of their life story in their own words. These mini-autobiographies were the secret sauce that transformed random snapshots of strangers into a remarkable series of portraits of real people that you could connect with. Brandon posted his photos-plus-bio on his blog, Humans of New York, which quickly went viral on social media until he had millions of followers. The 400 best of his portraits were fan-funded into this printed book.

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Street Craft: Yarnbombing, Guerilla Gardening, Light Tagging, Lace Graffiti and More

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Beyond graffiti. The artists featured in Street Craft apply non-paint to the urban landscape. Instead of spray cans they use yarn, cloth, plastic, plants, and sculpture. This “street crafting” is full of surprises in ways that are original and brilliant, witty and profound. The craftsmanship is excellent. The concepts can be subversive, or uplifting. Think of it as public art without permission. The book is a glorious catalog of some of the best pieces which have appeared on streets of the world. No matter what you create, they’ll be some great ideas here.art Read the rest

Sharks and Dinosaurs – Pop-up books on steroids

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There are only five “pages” in each of these books despite their 3-inch thickness. That is because each page is stuffed with layers and layers of ingenious interacting bits of printed paper, which magically assemble themselves into an alternate reality when each page is opened. Yes, it is a pop-up book, but a pop-up raised to an exponential level. A pop-up on steroids, or acid. Pop-up as extreme sport. The engineering is astounding. As a page is opened a 3D apparition appears, often with its own narrative, first one part and then another. The resulting paper sculpture is the story made real. The textual story is minimal; all the action is in the structures. Kids love to see how they work. The only downside to these books that belong on paper is not letting children paws tear the mechanics. These two books feature all kinds of pre-historic dinosaurs, and sharks of all types. But the artist behind them, Robert Sabuda, has half a dozen other books with the same kind of extreme pop-up-ness.

Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart Candlewick 2006, 12 pages, 7.8 x 9.9 x 2.1 inches $1 - $50 Buy a copy on Amazon

Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart Candlewick 2005, 12 pages, 8 x 10 x 2.5 inches $24 Buy a copy on Amazon Read the rest

Some call Miyazaki's Nausicaa the greatest graphic novel ever

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Some call this the greatest graphic novel ever. I tend to agree. Written and drawn by a young Hayao Miyazaki between 1982 and 1994, his final Japanese manga reached 1,100 pages. The current English translation consists of an oversized 2-volume hardcover boxed set (or a smaller format 7 volume paperback set). The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic earth and is rife with concern for the environment as well as feral fantasy creatures. Miyazaki would later animate it into his first feature length film by the same name. The obsessive detail in each drawing sucks you into a complete immersion into his world. Like all Miyazaki creations, it is lyrical, uplifting yet slightly dark, with villains who have redeeming qualities, and vice versa. It’s suitable for young adults.

Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind Vol. 1 by Hayao Miyazaki VIZ Media 2004, 136 pages, 7.1 x 10.1 x 0.5 inches (paperback) $9 Buy one on Amazon

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40 Days in the Desert - timeless, eternal mythical tale by Moebius

When you are trying to imagine the details of an alternative world, try Moebius. Moebius (one of the pseudonyms for the French artist Jean Giraud) practically invented the now-common idea of a well worn future – that place far ahead that is gritty, patched up, organic, and old and new at the same time. Think Star Wars, cyberpunk, Blade Runner. Moebius is a fabulist. His strange drawings, designs and comics have shaped movies such as The Fifth Element and Alien, and influenced directors such as Fellini and Miyazaki. Moebius was a prolific artist, starring in his own series Heavy Metal, and appeared in many other publications, yet little of his work remains in print in English. Out of all Moebius’ (Giraud’s) work, I suggest this book, 40 Days in the Desert. Long out of print, and rare even when first published, this is an extended visual poem. The version of the book that I have is Japanese, but that is okay because there are no words in this story. It is timeless and eternal and other-worldly. With thin sure lines, this wordless sequence tells a mythical story in some alien place. There are about 100 drawings depicting surreal worlds with an ominous tension. Something is about to happen, or just happened, but you are not sure what. All you know is that you have never seen anything like this, and that maybe it is true. It makes me want to unleash my imagination.

40 Days in the Desert by Moebius Asukashin-Sha 2009, 152 pages, 6.5 x 10.5 x 0.8 inches $49 Buy one on Amazon Read the rest

This small intelligent orb guesses what object you are thinking of in 20 questions

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This tennis ball-size orb knows what you are thinking. Most of the time it will guess what you have in mind after asking you twenty yes/no questions. It is eerily smart, and slightly addictive. The toy is remarkable. Because it is so small, so autonomous, its intelligence is shocking to the unprepared. Most children can’t stump it, and if you stick to objects it will stump smart adults about 80% of the time with 20 questions and most of the time with an additional 5 questions. I love to watch people’s reactions when they think of a “hard” thing, and after a seemingly irrational set of questions you are convinced are dumb, the sly ball tells you what you had in mind. (For instance, it can correctly guess “flying squirrel” without asking “does it fly?”) People who play chess machines won’t be surprised, but just about everyone else will be tickled. It feels like the future. But right now, for fourteen bucks, you can get an amazing little artificial intelligence, about as smart as an insect — but an insect which specializes in guessing what object you are thinking of. And in that part of the brain, it’s smarter than you are.

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20Q Deluxe by Techno Source Ages 7 and up $14 Buy a copy on Amazon This link is for 20Q Deluxe, a newer version from the photos above Read the rest

Build curvy, complicated, organic structures with ZOOB

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Most of the really great construction sets are rectangular in shape, or they obey rigid angles. Lego, Kapla Blocks, Kinnex, or Zomeworks are fabulous kits that foster open-ended creativity. But they all tend toward very rectilinear structures. ZOOB is the first construction set I’ve seen that encourages organic, free-flowing builds. There are five basic ZOOB shapes centered on a ball-and-socket connection. When you click them together you have full 180-degree freedom in how the connection is oriented, leading to creations that are curvy, complicated, or ones that repeat like vertebrate in a spine, or carbons on a chain, or even amino acids on DNA. I was surprised by how sophisticated you could make the forms; you may need a bit of patience to get complex ones to fit perfectly (note to 8-year olds). In fact the force and precision needed to assemble pieces may be beyond toddlers, but school kids should have no problem. The plastic pieces are largish, unlike lego, so the finished forms can be quite hefty.

ZOOB Ages 6 and up, 125 pieces $20 Buy a copy on Amazon

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Set – a pattern recognition competition

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Set is a simple card game in a class by itself. You get a deck of cards with colored symbols. These are laid out, face up. To play the game you need to organize the symbols into sets of three “un-alikes” — but they can be grouped in more ways than one. Many more ways. Everyone else is trying to group them into sets faster than you. This game exercises a unique part of your brain that few other activities do. Half math, half intuition, all concentration. It’s fun, loud, fast moving, and very challenging to do well, yet easy enough for small kids to join in.

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Stream Machine water cannon - high pressure fun

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The genius of these Stream Machine water cannons is their simplicity. A single moving part — a big fat piston with handle grip — squeezes a wide stream of water down and out their large diameter tubes. Filling them you reverse, sucking in water via the same orifice. When loaded (takes about 2 seconds) they gush water at least 30 feet. Impossible to clog, and nearly unbreakable, both kids and adults can operate them around pools, lakes, rafts, canoes and boats. These are the regulation-issued weapons at our place.

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Brock Magiscope is a rugged microscope for everyday use

The trouble with most optical equipment is that it won’t get used unless it is out of the case, opened up, and powered on. But if it is opened and lying around, it will get highly abused. I buy my cameras, spectacles, binocs, etc. assuming that they’ll be dropped and splattered, and they should hold up to this misuse. But until now I haven’t been able to find a microscope strong enough to do its job yet sturdy enough to be left on the kitchen table ready for inspections by toddlers and teenagers.

Now after several years of looking for an everyday microscope suitable for a busy family I found one: The Brock Magiscope #70 is exactly what I had wanted. It has a single-moving part that my 5-year-old son could handle. He could put a leaf in and focus it right. Rubber bands hold the slide. For light the scope uses a fat fiber optic bent pipe which channels ambient room light to the underside of the objective lens (no electricity). There is no fussing, no adjustments. The viewing field is amazingly bright and clear, good enough for high school work.

or smart phone to its eyepiece, and get pretty good microphotography shots. And best of all it is practically indestructible. The thing is simple and rugged as a hammer. In fact, it was built for the abuse of K-12 classrooms, which is probably as grating as a war. I know one educational sailing company that keeps several on its boat – probably the most challenging environment anywhere for optics. Read the rest

Fun with el-wire - flexible portable DIY neon

Do-it-yourself neon. This thin electroluminescent wire (el-wire) glows very brightly. You can bend it easily and tie it to anything. It produces essentially no heat. Best of all it runs on batteries, meaning you can wear it or use it on your bicycle. We make signs with it and, of course, some wild costumes. El-wire (also called Live Wire) has been used to great effect in the night at parades at Burning Man. It comes in various lengths from .5 m to 10 m (you can cut it if you know what you are doing) and in eight colors. You can make it strobe. The coolest thing to do is weave it. It is the world’s most flexible light. It is very cool stuff.

Get a starter kit on Amazon for $19

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Old Kathmandu – what was lost

As you can see from these photographs I took in 1976, the medieval town is delicate. Not all has been destroyed, and I am sure the Nepalis will rebuild as they have in the past. Still, the earthquake shook more than just buildings.

Artist Andy Goldsworthy builds amazing arrangements from leaves, twigs, flowers, icicles and dirt

I’m a big fan of the nature artist Andy Goldsworthy. In his art he only uses found natural materials: leaves, twigs, flowers, icicles, dirt. From these natural bits he builds amazing temporary arrangements outdoors in the natural settings he finds the material. He photographs their brief existence as a new order and then lets the elements unravel them. For a moment, his fanciful designs capture some invisible spirit that is both completely wild and completely Andy Goldsworthy. Once you see one of his natural sculptures, they seem to be inevitable. A rainbow row of leaves sorted by color. Of course! You can’t forget them. Again and again he seems to summon archetypes – an icicle arch – that ought to occur in the wild. But we don’t see them until he unveils them. Goldsworthy is a prolific maker, with many books of his stunning works. If I had to select only one volume, I think his Collaboration with Nature has the best summary of his early work (up to 1990). I take these as visual poems. If they ring a bell in you, proceed to his later work.

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The photos in Earth is My Witness are like bullets

Earth is My Witness is a classic coffee table book. Huge, weighty, colorful, and visually pleasing to almost everyone. Read the rest

Habibi, a strange, beautiful graphic novel

There is no way around it. Habibi is a strange graphic novel. Not strange as in surreal, or ugly, or weird, but strange as in stranger, different. It is beautifully drawn. The writing is poetic. But the story is… odd. It takes place in an indefinite time in a place where Islam and Christianity meet. It wrestles with myth, status, slavery, love and transcendence.There’s horrific sin and redeeming grace. There’s an exotic multi-generational saga. It also serves a tutorial on how arabic calligraphy works. See, strange like that. This big fat book is a true work of art.

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Cartoonist Roz Chast talks about death and dying

Roz Chast draws a comic about her parents getting old and dying. Sometimes her account is funny, sometimes it’s poignant; always it’s memorable, even though her parent’s life and death were ordinary in most respects. Read the rest

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