• 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

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

    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.

    See more photos at Wink Fun.

    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

  • Build curvy, complicated, organic structures with ZOOB

    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

    See more photos at Wink Fun.

  • Set – a pattern recognition competition

    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.

    See more photos at Wink Fun.

  • Stream Machine water cannon – high pressure fun

    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.

    See more photos at Wink Fun.

  • 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. Brock offers a "lifetime replacement warranty, including accidents." If it breaks, ever, they replace it. And they do. (Some visiting kids managed to break the light optic – I have no idea how – but Brock replaced it with no questions asked. This tool is always on, always out (it sits next to the fruit bowl); we use it.

    See more photos at Wink Fun.

  • 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

    See more photos at Wink Fun.

  • Old Kathmandu – what was lost

    Kathmandu was an intensely ornate city that is easily damaged. The carvings, details, public spaces were glorious. My heart goes out to its citizens who suffer with their city. As you can see from these images I took in 1976, the medieval town has been delicate for decades. Loosely stacked bricks are everywhere. One can also see what splendid art has been lost. 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.

    If you look carefully you may notice something unusual about these photos. They show no cars, pedicabs, or even bicycles. At the time I took these images, Kathmandu was an entirely pedestrian city. Everyone walked everywhere. Part of why I loved it. That has not been true for decades, so this is something else that was lost long ago. Also missing back then was signage. There are few signs for stores, or the typical wordage you would see in any urban landscape today. Kathmandu today is much more modern, much more livable, or at least it was.

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  • 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.

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • 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.

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • Art Out of Time – Strange and now-forgotten cartoonists

    When comics in newspapers ("funnies") were first invented in the 1900s, a thousand crazy ideas were tried in every local newspaper in the country. Most of these local attempts at this new media were awful, but many of these earliest comic strips and later comic books were truly innovative, original, and bizarre.

    There was nothing like them before – or since. Even the underground comix in the 1970s were not as strange and unusual as these now-forgotten visionaries. Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 presents a sampling of overlooked fantastic and fantastical comics harvested from small town papers, yellowing zines, and short-lived strips. Like many other types of first-attempts, there is still much to be learned from these odd pioneers.

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • Sacred Journey – The trippiest travel photo book you will ever see

    Sacred Journey: The Ganges to the Himalayas is the trippiest travel photo book I have ever seen, and I've seen them all. David Howard took a spiritual trip to India and Nepal, hanging out with the naked sadhus and poor pilgrims at the holy sites along the way. He photographed his subjects and then photoshopped them into hallucinogenic collages. The images are hyper real, their sharpness too sharp, the scales of subjects mixed, with no distinction between background and foreground. They vibrate on the page, almost hurting your eyes. But your retina compels you to study the multi-dimensional pictures, and dive into the disorientation. Howard captures the feeling of being on a trip in India and Nepal better than anything else I've seen or read. These are postcards from the edge of coherence. It is a deeply personal journal, and for that reason one of my favorites, even though I am glad I was not on his bus.

    See sample pages of Sacred Journey: The Ganges to the Himalayas at Wink.

  • Atlas of Cities – Dissecting the anatomy of cities from around the world

    The Atlas of Cities does not graph the usual geographic shapes of cities, but tries to diagram the many other dimensions within cities around the world. Taking example from many specific cities (such as Istanbul, or Cairo) it tries to dissect, almost like an x-ray, the many organs, tissues, cells, and anatomy of a typical city. In fact a better title for the book would have been Anatomical Atlas of Cities. It uses charts and graphs to show how cities remain healthy, or how they get sick. Since 50% of the humans alive today live in an urban neighborhood, this book will likely illuminate your world.

    See sample pages of Atlas of Cities at Wink.

  • Photos of colorful Tokyo

    The Nakasendo is an old road in Japan that connects Kyoto to Tokyo. It was once a major foot highway, but today small sections retain some of its historical feel. In October I walked along 5 short sections of it, staying at traditional inns along the way. The Nakasendo is full of history and many artists and poets over the centuries have travelled along it, including Basho, the haiku genius. We met a lot of characters, too, and thoroughly enjoyed the exquisite details that make up this country. [See Kevin's photos of the Nakasendo here]

    The other side of Japan is full-tilt modern, and at times, overloaded with color. The Japanese also love uniforms; every role has a uniform. I tried to capture some of the uniforms on the streets and trains, especially the cosplay uniforms in Harajuku, Tokyo. I found maximum color in Japanese shows on TV, in their vending machines, and at a crazy, bonkers, over-the-top show in Tokyo called the Robot Restaurant. Turn up that color dial to 11!

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