Job losses, national security fears and natural disasters can make the future seem bleak. Companies are manufacturing alternate realities that consumers can embrace, leaving the real world behind...for now.
March 03, 2014
Lifestyle = Brand
Making a living by means of your creativity isn’t easy, no matter where you call home. If you live in New York City, it isn’t cheap, either. For a group of eight creative young people, the price tag for a three-story house with room for a collaborative, music-driven existence in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park neighborhood is $5000 a month. How do these hipsters do it? With support from a group of investors, naturally. Welcome to a brave new frontier of lifestyle marketing! Founding resident and musician Denitia Odigie describes the idea’s genesis like this: “[the media investors] came to us for content and we brought them the concept. It worked because they provided us with resources, like a RED camera, while they benefited because of the cool factor, the street cred.” Ah, the street! And yet the Clubhouse, as residents call it, is an idea with history. From the Detroit rowhouse that was Motown’s Hitsville, USA to the artistic incubator Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas created in their Parisian parlors, the rich have gotten together to provide hip young things with (artificial) places to live and create before.
February 24, 2014
Some brain function is autonomic: we don’t have to think “beat, heart,” for the muscle in our chest to do its work. Similarly, a snake-like shape on the ground makes us jump, whether what we’re seeing is a snarled rope on the garage floor or a snakey-looking vine in a jungle. It turns out processing the emotions on other human faces is similarly hard-wired, and researchers at Australia’s Flinders University have proof, recently finding that digitally literate people’s brains respond identically to emoticons and images of real faces. It’s a learned behavior, which makes sense – we’ve only been dealing with these facial pictographs for an eye-blink, evolutionarily speaking – but once you’ve learned it, that tiny punctuation-combo smiley-face induces the same shot of dopamine as a picture of a real happy person.
Read more at io9.
February 17, 2014
Obamacare on the Silver Screen
Not wishing to be upstaged by the Oscars next month, the Writer’s Guild of America is hosting a seminar of its own. The topic? The Affordable Care Act. Why would a group of screenwriters, obituarists and various other culture chroniclers do this, you might reasonably ask? Not for the sake of their own health, but to discuss how to deal with the legislation dramatically. “‘This is such a contentious issue, no one’s pretending’ there will not be robust disagreements on-screen, as in life, said Martin Kaplan,” a director of USC’s Lear Center and an organizer of the event. The people fictionalizing real life are poised to beat lawmakers and healthcare providers to the punch.
February 10, 2014
The Icelandic company that runs EVE is building two memorials: one in the game, one in real life. The digital version will commemorate all the players who “died” in the gigantic, blow-out battle EVE players recently had, and the real-life monument will be dedicated to to all EVE players, period. Everyone who’s registered to play the game as of March 1st will get his – ahem, their – name engraved in marble! Even players who’ve actually died, in real life – for example, Sean “Vile Rat” Smith, a U.S. diplomat killed in the 2012 attack at Benghazi, Libya. Oh, and that faux oil painting-looking image? That’s a digital artist’s rendering of the forthcoming real monument, obviously.
Read all about B-R5RB (that’s the big battle, newb) and the planned monuments at Kotaku.
February 03, 2014
Virtual “Big Block of Cheese” Day
If you’ve ever watched “The West Wing” and wished that American politics looked a little more like that, you’re not alone. The Obama White House, in an effort to engage more directly with citizens after last week’s State of the Union address, recently emulated one of the show’s stranger episodes, in which a two-ton piece of cheese is placed in the White House foyer to encourage casual mingling between staffers and voters. Although the present-day version uses Twitter rather than cheese to encourage discussion, both it and the TV show that inspired it are pulling from a real historical event. Even in the 1820s, when social media took the form of free food, it seems that Andrew Jackson’s staff saw the value in hearing from everyday folks.
January 27, 2014
Can’t Wait to Meet You, Baby
Things you didn’t know you needed: for $800, the startup 3D Babies will transform your boring old “4D” ultrasound into a three-dimensional, life-sized model in “light, medium or dark” flesh-toned plastic, Does this strike you as the creepiest paperweight ever, or a new must-have for digitally-savvy parents-to-be? With technological and artificial interventions into the process of making and having babies picking up steam all the time – The New Yorker just published an incredible piece about the future of human genetic engineering in China – why should baby-related tchotchkes not keep up? Get your realistic fetus keepsake today!
More images (and some very funny commentary) on Fast Co Design.
January 20, 2014
Tivo the Sunrise and Watch it Tonight
The smog in Beijing – which can be blamed on geography and weather patterns, as well as intense pollution – yielded sad stories and more than a few incredible images, in 2013. People are getting upset; the sun practically doesn’t rise in the winter, anymore, and widespread reports indicate air quality levels 20-30 times worse than “acceptable.” What’s a deeply paternalistic, propaganda-friendly authoritarian regime to do? Give ‘em an artificial sunrise. A number of Jumbotrons around town are used to show images of blue sky at bucolic Chinese tourist destinations, the sun coming up, glittering skylines at night and other clear-aired attractions.
Kotaku has a correction on the news item purporting that this image depicted a real-time, behind the coulds sunrise; don’t miss the translations of various messages running on the screens.
January 13, 2014
(Not) Sugar in the Raw
Fake eggs? Fine. Fake sugar, on the other hand, can fairly be described as the holy grail of the ‘alt-food’ industry. Aspartame has been around since the 60’s, but it’s become increasingly clear that the stuff is poison – apologies to the Diet Coke-devoted. An all-natural, non-caloric sweetener that tastes as good as evaporated cane juice would be worth billions every year. Those big dollar signs have extended the search beyond stevia, lately… Monk Fruit in the Raw, anyone? Donna LiVolsi, Operations Director at Cumberland (the company that invented saccharin, AKA Sweet ‘n’ Low) says the situation is complicated, “…because each consumer has a sense of what the word [natural] means to them.”
Read more at The New York Times Magazine.
January 06, 2014
Is This Real Life?
As big-budget movies and massively produced video games advance the craft of computer graphics month by month, it’s getting ever harder to tell when we’re looking at an image taken from real life. This development also has something to do with the increasing day-to-day ubiquity of cameras, be they government-issue GoPros mounted to Spec Ops commando’s helmets or 10-megapixel iPhones in the hands of rank-and-file service-men and -women. For better or worse, we’ve come a long way since 1997’s Wag the Dog, a movie about “truth, justice and other special effects.”
Gizomodo’s Spoid blog has a entire slideshow of these headscratchers.
December 23, 2013
The Insights of a Sign Language Imposter
Thamsanqa Jantjie, the ersatz sign-language interpreter whose made-up gestures sullied Nelson Mandela’s funeral, is in fact just the latest in a long line of attention-seeking frauds throughout history. In a recent post on Random House’s Hazlitt blog, Carl Wilson recounts some of humanity’s great fakers, and suggests that, beyond angering us with their deception, they’re actually performing a valuable social service by exposing our presumptions and blind spots. Highlights include a simulated delegation of Abyssinian royalty that was received by an unbelievably gullible British Navy, and the perpetual amateurism of ‘90s feel-good sci-fi show Quantum Leap.
Take a few minutes and enjoy an unusual take on history at Random House’s Hazlitt blog.
December 16, 2013
(Artificial) Egg Hunt
Consuming the unfertilized ovums of Gallus domesticus is definitely weird, but eggs are such a well-integrated part of our diet that we rarely stop to think about them. Eggs play a vital role in the chemistry, taste and appearance of everything from meatloaf to mayonnaise, and human beings consume nearly 2 trillion a year. Hampton Creek Foods founder Josh Tetrick has identified a big problem with that (incredible) number, however: making eggs the old-fashioned way, by feeding chickens soybeans or grain, isn’t energy efficient. Tetrick and others have made some real strides in the search for a plant-based protein worthy of the title ‘egg replacement,’ and suffice to say the science has come a ways since cardboard boxes of tasteless Ener-G powder.
The Wall Street Journal has more on the very industrialized, high-stakes search for fake eggs.
December 09, 2013
“A Very Important Book, by a Very Important Man.”
Books ‘by’ authors who don’t actually exist are real: real marketing ploys, as well as a real literary tradition. A contemporary example, “Let Me Off at the Top! My Classy Life & Other Musings” wasn’t written by actor Will Ferrell (most likely) let alone Ron Burgundy (not possible) – and we don’t care. This isn’t fraud, because no one is being suckered; the words on the page are real, even if their authorship is uncertain. The Anchorman and his sidekick Baxter are also appearing on the cover of January’s “Dog Fancy” magazine, flogging the new book. Authorless stories – think folktales or mythology – as well as stories written anonymously on purpose have never been much of a barrier to literary enjoyment. Jason Anderson wrote recently for Random House about the past and present of real books by fake authors.
December 02, 2013
Ye Olde Poverty Safari
Wealthy peoples’ titillation at how the other 99% lives has a rich history: the OED first noted “slumming” in 1884, in reference to upper-crusty Londoners organizing trips to gawk at the proles of Shoreditch. The trend continues apace, but Mumbai’s slum tours have been one-upped at The Emoya Luxury Resort and Spa, outside Bloemfontein, South Africa. The proprietors there decided to fence in the township, and now offer “…the experience of staying in a shanty within the safe environment of a private game reserve!” For about $82 a night, you get a private tin shed with radiant-heated floors, outdoor fireplace, WiFi, and all the hypocrisy you can handle.
Gizmodo has more.
November 25, 2013
Whither the McRib?
Know what sounds good for lunch, today? Tertiary butylhydroquinone. Not for you? Let’s see: TBHQ is a petrochemical preservative and binding agent that appears in McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets and the infamous McRib “boneless pork” sandwich, a “seasonal” delight that’s been gracing Mickey D’s menus since the early 80’s. Ian Bogost’s critique uses the McRib as a point of entry to the real/fake nature of other odd things we eat, by way of Lacan and Slavoj Žižek, and ends up making a case for how this “McFrankenstein creation” actually helps us understand everything on McDonald’s menu. Or makes it all that much harder to understand, depending.
November 18, 2013
What's in a Name: Mischief Reef/Nansha Islands/Ayungin Shoal
Maritime borders, moreso even than geographical territory lines, are real fakes: they exist because nation-states choose to agree on them, but offer no natural demarcations. In the South Pacific, as in the rapidly de-icing seas around the North Pole and elsewhere, the presence of natural resources in and under the water has brought various countries into conflict again and again. Japan recently withheld a national design award from Google Maps because of the company’s choice in naming the Takeshima/Dokdo Islands, whose sovereignty is disputed with South Korea; the South China Seas’ Spratly Islands are locked in a three-way grudge match between the Philippines, China and Vietnam – there’s oil in them thar seafloors. “That there are three different titles for the same set of uninhabitable rocks tells you much of what you need to know about the region.”
November 11, 2013
Bookstores with a Side of Kindle
Independent bookstores had been complaining about Amazon’s pricing for years before the primary topic of griping switched to ebooks. If margin-busting online pricing didn’t kill mom-and-pop bookshops, the logic went, then Kindles and iPads might finish the job. Well, Amazon has something else for the indies to talk about: Source. The plan is for small bookstores to sell Kindles themselves, with all the personal service and recommendations that entails, and then receive a 10% cut of all future ebook sales on those devices. ‘Fake’ books could potentially still be a winner for brick-and-mortar bookstores.
Read more about Source on Amazon.
November 04, 2013
No Currency is an Island
Bitcoins were always intended to become a real currency, but it took awhile before they truly made it. For years after being introduced in 2008, Bitcoins traded hands in a closed loop, valuable only to other devotees. That started to change – fast – in 2012, and the digital specie hit a peak of $266 per Bitcoin in April, with a huge pool of investors willing to trade for other real currencies. Kristofer Koch, a Norwegian cryptographer, got on board with Bitcoins earlier, however: he spent about $26 dollars on 5,000 Bitcoins in 2009 as a graduate student, and then forgot about them, until reading all the hoopla about their offline value increasing. The present-day value of Koch’s hoard? Nearly $1M.
Visit the Guardian for the whole story.
October 28, 2013
How Much is that Irony in the Window?
Making an asset of fakeness yields the “realest” fake of all. When tagger-turned-high-art-darling Banksy held an impromptu sidewalk sale in New York, it took all day to sell eight canvases for $60 each, which is a steal for an original Banksy. A few days later, in the same al fresco location, painters Dave Cicirelli and Lance Pilgrim sold 40 knock-off Banksy works, for the same price–complete with certificates of inauthenticity–in about an hour. All this comes hot on the heels of two enterprising Brooklynites charging passers-by $20 a pop to be photographed with a (genuine) stenciled Banksy. Are New Yorkers particularly attracted to compounded irony in their art? Did the press Banksy got for selling a few of his works so cheaply drive up fear-of-missing-out demand for exceedingly close reproductions?
Visit the Verge for more.
October 21, 2013
Designers complaining about other designers for valuing style over substance is nothing new. Creating an entire fictitious studio to make that point is more ambitious, but that’s exactly what Irish designer Amy West has recently done. The studio, called Grafik BS, has its own Behance page with dozens of detailed layout and poster designs, as well as a video interview with its fake creative director, Bjorn Svenson. Despite clear statements that the whole thing’s a hoax, Grafik BS has reportedly received dozens of inquiries from job seeking designers eager to collaborate.
October 14, 2013
To Catch a Thief
Burglars are consumers of a particular stripe, seeking goods at the lowest possible price. They exchange risk instead of currency for the fence-able products. In the UK, a strategy has been in use since 2008 to apprehend these special shoppers: capture houses. As a Leeds Chief Constable explained to the BBC, “The capture house is completely indistinguishable from any other house in that street or area. The difference is the house is rigged up with hidden cameras which are so small that no-one is going to spot them or know where they are hidden.” Some capture houses have been burgled after being operational for less than 24 hours; others have lain dormant for up to a year, their lights switching on and off on timers but otherwise just gathering dust. The program has been rolled out across the country, and law enforcement agencies in burglary-prone areas in other countries are considering the technique.
Read more at Gizmodo.
October 07, 2013
Humans Posing as Spambots Posing as Art
Twitter accounts gain followers for all sorts of functional and entertainment reasons, but only occasionally for artistic ones. One such account was @Horse_ebooks, a steady stream of bizarre verbal fragments that always seemed on the cusp of saying something important — “How many times have you wished you were strong enough to concentrate your mind,” goes one; “And for many, it does both” says another. Many followers assumed that these were the product of some artfully-programmed spambot, but in late September, Horse_ebooks stopped tweeting, and revealed itself to be the work of two Brooklynites, one of whom works at news aggregator site Buzzfeed. The response has been confused, outraged, charmed and thoroughly postmodern, as publications like The New Yorker and The New Republic question whether this was art, or whether it was even important. For the account’s 200,000+ fans, we’re left to ponder whether it would’ve been cooler if Horse_ebooks had been a robot after all…and if so, why?
September 30, 2013
Cutting the Astroturf
Catching savvy repeat offenders sometimes requires custom bait. To collar a cadre of astroturfers – digital factories responsible for churning out spurious Yelp reviews for cash – New York State’s Attorney General created a fake frozen yogurt joint. “Operation Clean Turf” brought charges against 19 companies altogether, and racked up $350,000 in fines. Although this is the largest criminal case concerning astroturfing to date, it probably won’t be the last. “Consumers need to understand what is advertising and what is an independent search or review,” said an FTC representative.
September 23, 2013
Star Trek Spy Machine
The director of the NSA, Keith Alexander, is a Star Trek fan. When it came time to create a command center for the organization’s domestic surveillance efforts, Alexander apparently seized the chance to build his own starship Enterprise – or the bridge, at least. That image is real; DBI Architects actually designed an upholstered commander’s station set amidst steel-wrapped banks of computers, with a 22’ wide projection screen in front. The Reston, VA facility is called the Information Dominance Center, and according to a PBS interview with a retired NSA officer, VIP visitors from Washington clamored for the chance to pretend they were Captain Picard in the big chair while on tours.
September 16, 2013
Artists Who Imitate Art, Imitating Life
Some of the world’s greatest counterfeiters live in China; a lot of them, in fact, in the same few towns. Chinese designer Zhenhan Hao recently took advantage of this proximity by going to Jingdezhen and Dafen Village, two centers of China’s counterfeit porcelain and art industries, and commissioning their resident craftsmen to do some “real” art, based on their personal experiences. The results are both striking and strange: depictions of life in modern China, rendered in styles that perfectly mimic Van Gogh, de Chirico and others.
Read the article and see more examples at FastCo Design.
September 09, 2013
Faster, Easier, More Expensive
Instant soup – canned, dehydrated or otherwise – isn’t new. But just as when Betty Crocker incorporated dehydrated eggs into their earliest cake mixes of the 1950s and encountered resistance from customers claiming that not cracking an egg meant they weren’t “cooking” anymore, separately heating water has been considered essential to making Cup Noodles soup. But technology marches on, and the bar has been lowered: Campbell’s and Green Mountain have teamed up to bring you Homestyle Chicken Broth and Noodle Soup Mix, in K Cups. You read it right, your Keurig can now make soup.
Gizmodo has the story.
September 03, 2013
Home Movies, Starring...Your Home
Using celebrity to sell goods is a time-tested strategy, but what if you’re trying to sell a house? In the competitive world of high-end real estate, enterprising brokers and homeowners have turned to film as a way of making their property more alluring, going so far as to hire script writers, professional actors and cameramen to create full-blown miniature movies. These aren’t just explanatory walkthroughs, either: recent examples include King Kong climbing a luxury high-rise in New York, and an underwear-clad model relaying information to a SWAT team about the seaside Australian mansion where she’s held captive. Some veteran realtors are skeptical, arguing that real buyers need information and not theatrics, but the films are undoubtedly bringing exposure — that SWAT team video has earned over 5 million YouTube views.
Read the article, and watch a few examples, at the Wall Street Journal.
August 26, 2013
Do Android Farmers Dream of Electrosynthetic Fruit?
A manned mission to Mars has been a goal of science and statecraft for decades, but it’s only lately that the technology to make it possible is within reach. That means it’s time to start thinking about the nitty-gritty, like what are the astronauts going to eat? Maintaining adequate nutrition is only part of the problem. A trip of three or more years means boredom will also be an issue, and with payload costs around $100,000 per kilogram, low shipping weight is a must. Three artists have proposed a solution: the mission could grow its own food along the way, with the help of microorganisms engineered to thrive on electrical and radiation energy. Novel combinations of yeast and cyanobacteria could yield a changing, seasonal palette of fruit and vegetable-like foods, with an out-of-this-world terroir.
Head over to Edible Geography for more.
August 19, 2013
The Fake History of a Soon-to-be-Real Device
It’s widely agreed upon within the world of CE that Apple will be releasing a wearable, wrist-based, watch-like device, sometime soon. Rather than stalk the same shreds of sanctioned early information available to all of the tech blog world, Anil Dash has written an imaginative rundown of reactions and news that might follow the release of the “iWatch.” It’s a testament to the cultural entrenchment of Apple product launches that this kind of prediction-based satire can come across as both funny and entirely believable. Dash brings a bit of a critical edge, as well, which is always welcome in a world overrun with fanboys.
August 12, 2013
Art in Flatland
As we view, buy and sell art ever more frequently on screens, it’s worth pausing to consider now and again that images – convenient and shareable as they may be – aren’t the same as the real thing(s). Digital-only galleries, Amazon’s recent foray into selling fine art, and Google’s high-res museum tours are giving more people more access to “important” art than ever before, but don’t forgo seeing art in person, from time to time. This goes for all-digital art, too, which is increasingly staking out space in the real world, as at the SOHO Gallery for Digital Art: where LOLCats go to get printed.
The New Inquiry has a thoughtful piece on the digital mediation of real-world art.
August 05, 2013
Heroes of Cosplay is a Real Show
As reality TV enters its adolescence, it finds itself going deeper and deeper into niche territory: first we had mass appeal shows like American Idol and Survivor, then job-specific series like Cake Boss and Deadliest Catch, and now…cosplay artists. Capitalizing on the increasingly mainstream appeal of comic nerd culture, the SyFy channel is unleashing Heroes of Cosplay, a show dedicated to the challenges and triumphs of people who dress up like anime and comic book characters. If the trailer is any indication, there’s plenty of material here: tight deadlines, personal passions and lots of sewing and EL wire mishaps. It’s also, however, a fake show about real people dressing up as fictitious people.
July 29, 2013
On Stockholm Syndrome, and Non-Alcoholic Whiskey
Sometimes a corporate tagline says it all: “Arkay, a nice alternative to liquors.” Pros: Arkay’s flagship product is inexpensive, calorie-free, and, clearly, contains no alcohol. Cons: this whiskey contains no alcohol. Can a distilled spirit be approximated without its vital component? Only if one is sufficiently desperate, reports reviewer Maggie Koerth-Baker, who resorted to Arkay because she was seven months pregnant. She does not recommend it, to anyone, pregnant or not. Arkay is nevertheless forging ahead with other non-alcoholic liquor alternatives: gin, limoncello, and blue curacao (which seems both inevitable and inconceivable) are all “coming soon.”
Read the entire review (worth it) at Boingboing.
July 22, 2013
Star Wars Geekery Level: Highly Advanced (Archaeology)
Even casual “Star Wars” fans likely already know that Tatooine–the home planet of Anakin and Luke Skywalker–was shot in Tunisia, a desert-dominated country in northern Africa. What’s been making news among hardcore nerds lately is the fact that the sets are still there. As often happens in hot, dry climates, the abandoned 1977 Skywalker homestead and 2009 village of Mos Espa remain quite well-preserved: they look (sort of) like real adobe ruins now. Last year, a group of fans actually restored the iconic igloo-shaped above-ground portion of Luke’s childhood home, and geologists recently published a paper analyzing the encroachment of migrating sand dunes on Anakin’s pod shop in Mos Espa.
July 15, 2013
It’s Always Sunny in Southwark
For most visitors, the point of an observation deck is to observe: we want to see the busy metropolis below us, from the highest point we can, which poses problems in a city as famously cloudy as London. Enter a new kind of “viewing” device called the Tellscope, recently installed on the 72nd floor of The Shard—London’s (and the EU’s) tallest building. Through a combination of detailed 3D mapping, hardware tracking and augmented reality, the Tellscope offers visitors a crystal clear view of the city below, whatever the weather. Visitors and reviewers alike seem to love it, despite the fact that the device would work just as well in the building’s basement.
Learn all about how the Tellscope works in this long, detailed FastCoLabs story.
July 08, 2013
Swoosh, Swoosh, Bang, Bang
What if Nike made handguns? It’s one of those questions that graduate students might pose to each other over a late night beer, but in the right hands, it’s also strangely illuminating. Australian graphic designer Phil Robson has turned the question into a series of illustrations, crossing some of Nike’s most recognizable athletic shoes with the silhouettes of Berettas and Uzis, to create a fake product line that’s equal parts familiar and surreal. Design writer Barbara Eldredge asks the obvious follow-up question — in what parallel universe would these products exist? — and the answers are equally strange.
July 01, 2013
Neverland in a Fishtank
Dissatisfied with his ability to offer anything new to the world of painting, New York artist Kim Keever turned to a camera and a 200 gallon aquarium tank, with incredible results. Meticulously building up mystical, almost hyper-real landscapes in miniature, then flooding them with water and light, he’s created a collection of images that tread the line between photography and painting. Some are direct interpretations of nature scenes, with names like “waterfall” and “volcano”, while others eschew realism entirely, turning papier-mache rocks and cotton mist into brushstrokes, for painting photos of landscapes that could never exist.
June 24, 2013
The Isle of Portugal, England has been chosen as the site for Adjaye Associates’ Mass Extinction Memorial Observatory, a spiraling, interconnected ramp of stone that already looks ancient, in renderings. MEMO’s walls will be carved with species already known to have become extinct, beginning with the dodo, which last roamed Madagascar in the seventeenth century; room will be left to add more creatures as time goes on. This project has an interesting corollary in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault: MEMO is a repository for our memory of animals, while Svalbard is a stone genetics bunker for plants. If many scientists’ projections are correct, thousands of Earth’s most charismatic megafauna species could be extinct by mid-century.
June 17, 2013
Sometimes the Grass is Bluer
Colors are colors regardless of what we call them, right? Not so fast. Our perception of color results from the behavior of light: wavelengths bend, making for smooth gradients from one color to the next. This is explains why my “salmon” is your “rose,” as our optical nerves (and vocabularies) aren’t perfectly aligned. When Crayola began to market their pigment sticks in Japan after World War II, they encountered a problem. Japanese had no word for “green,” only “ao,” or blue. “Greenness” was part of the spectrum covered linguistically by “blue.” Following Crayola’s introduction, a generation of Japanese-speakers grew up using “midori” for green, although the word had previously been understood as a very greenish shade of blue.
Empirical Zeal has more on how language and color intersect.
June 10, 2013
Introducing the Ava 500
Cisco and iRobot, the company best known for its Roomba automated vacuum, have teamed up to create a roving, 5’5” tall teleconferencing… office avatar? Indoor, low-speed personal drone? Videophone-on-wheels? Using a rather remarkable combination of passive-avoidance and user input via iPad, the Ava 500 lets “you” “walk” and “talk” around the office, even when you can’t make it there in the flesh. The technology also has interesting implications for the disabled, and stands to improve on FaceTime, but this writer can’t help but be reminded of the eery conference-room scene in Demolition Man. It won’t come cheap, either: Cisco reports the Ava is available now for $70,000, or to lease for roughly $2,500 monthly.
June 03, 2013
Far, Far Out Art
A blog called I Like This Art recently reproduced a series of photographs from a long way afield: they’re high-resolution images captured by the Curiosity rover on Mars. Some of the landscapes look surprisingly Earth-like; it could almost be Nevada, if you squint. The idea of Earth having a sterile, rusty doppelganger as its nearest celestial neighbor is fascinating, but so is an anonymous NASA technician creating “art” via remote control, from approximately 35 million miles away. While the images are real, they come to us from place we’ll most likely never visit. Distance to Mars is an edifying graphic depiction of just how incredibly far away Mars really is. Is NASA getting back in the fantasy business, after all these last few boring decades?
May 28, 2013
Fake Plastic Trees
Photographer Dillon Marsh has been documenting a particular kind of tree found around his native Cape Town, and chances are good you’ve seen similar (or even identical) trees near where you live. These are cell phone towers, disguised with non-toxic plastic foliage to look like trees, with varying degrees of success. Cape Town’s examples are interesting for their variation: palms, pines, and even defoliated deciduous trees all appear in Marsh’s cunningly titled “Invasive Species” series. The camouflage is meant to soften the towers’ visual impact, and presumably offer the communication infrastructure being obscured some protection in the event of airborne attack.
See the whole series at the artist’s website, and get ready to notice fake trees along a highway near you.
May 20, 2013
The VatBurger Is Here! Only $325k
The most humane meat of the future won’t come from exceptionally coddled cows, according to Netherlands-based researcher Mark Post, but from a petri dish. Lab-grown meat, cultured from living cells, has the potential to be produced with vastly less water and caloric input than even the freest of free-range animals require, with zero waste. Imagine, if you will, steaks from 3D printers designed to extrude protein tissues like those Dr. Post creates. At the moment, in vitro meat is far, far more expensive than conventionally-produced proteins, but prices are set to fall rapidly as the technology matures.
May 13, 2013
No Latte Please, Just the Chatter
Most background noise soundtracks tend to use recordings of waterfalls or rain showers — soothing, natural noises that are relatively difficult to access on demand in real life. But Coffitivity is betting on something much closer to home, offering a browser-based player that delivers the sounds of a bustling local coffeehouse at the touch of a button. On the surface it sounds a little absurd — how hard is it to just go there in person? — but as Core77 points out in their review, the right level of background chatter can actually make you more productive, especially if you don’t run the risk of getting sucked into conversation with the cute co-worker at the next table.
May 06, 2013
This Is Real Life
Paul Miller is a 27-year old technology blogger, someone who makes his living writing about the internet, on the internet. In April of 2012, he decided to completely disconnect for 12 months, in order to reassess his “real,” off-line life. What he discovered was that his life online wasn’t fake, per se, and that turning off the WiFi to stop and smell the roses didn’t necessarily make his life richer than Skyping with his nieces had. 11 months in, he summarized the experience: “I don’t seem to be in sync with the human race… there’s deeper reasons for most of my problems that really didn’t have a lot to do with the internet; they just manifest differently on- and offline.”
Read Miller’s account in his own words at The Verge; there’s also a short film.
April 29, 2013
Genuine Handmade Prints
To faithfully recreate the output of four-color halftone printing with felt-tipped markers, it takes a lot of ready hands: around a 100, in the case of the Human Printer. Fine-art image making has sparred with mechanical reproduction since the earliest days of printing, and the advent of photography and digital technology complicated matters even further. The London-based Human Printer project turns “mechanical” production into assembly-line style performance art, with white-gloved Printers seated at gridded desks applying one color each. Their output is as labor-intensive and hand-made as art gets, but from across the room, indistinguishable from a cheap poster print.
See more prints, and check on the upcoming performance schedule, at the Human Printer.
April 22, 2013
This is the Coolest Cookware
Induction cooking is increasingly common in commercial kitchens, where it’s valued for temperature precision and consistency as well as energy efficiency. The catch for transferring the technology to the home is that it only works with iron-based cookware. Six students were recently invited by LG to design cookware that does just that, and they chose highly insulative materials – porcelain and wood – with invisible steel cores. Although the vessels would be destroyed by a traditional stovetop, they’re ideal for induction, and aside from their unique aesthetics, offer an additional benefit: remaining cool to the touch. This allows the “toaster”, grill or saucepan to go directly from stovetop to tabletop, barehanded, with no trivet.
For more, see YankoDesign.
April 15, 2013
The Clark Fork River in Montana was badly contaminated by decades of copper mining runoff. In order to rehabilitate it, the river was diverted and much of its original bed was removed. Because of rising costs, the EPA decided to declare the detoured course the river’s “new original” channel, and work on remediation there, introducing artificial curves and other landscaping to make it look natural. Brad Tyer took a canoe down the new Clark Fork, and doesn’t think the job has worked out so well. It’s been over-idealized, according to Tyer, or made too much like the Platonic ideal of a river than any real river should ever be.
Read the complete review of Tyer’s book, “Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape” at Hazlitt.
April 08, 2013
The Subways of North America... All of Them
Maps are fake, in a sense. They’re representations, and as such can represent places that exist in our imaginations as well as in real life. In some cases, those two categories cross paths: Randall Monroe has created a map that shows all of North America’s subway systems, interconnected, like an illustrative taxonomy of underground mass transit. This isn’t the first time Monroe has created a sort of mash-up map, or visualized a guide to places with elements of the real and the imagination intertwined. Here’s to the continued cartography of the unreal helping us see reality a little differently.
Visit xkcd for more of Monroe’s maps and other comics.
April 01, 2013
Fake News Makes Real News
There’s a whole ecosystem of satirical news, ranging from the truly fake articles that often populate The Onion (i.e. “Mint Employee Disciplined For Putting His Own Face on Nickels”), to The Colbert Report, which actually just puts a particularly snarky slant on very real current events. Comedic news veteran Tony Hendra’s latest venture is The Final Edition, which seeks to test what it takes to get ‘news’ branded ‘fake’, given the questionable veracity of so much ‘real news’ coverage. A recent Final Edition piece, for example, has Apple announcing their Google Glass killer, the iBall. “These manipulations of fact are distinct from parody news in critiquing those who create news (the politicians, criminals, celebrities etc), not those who report it,” Hendra says.
March 25, 2013
The Fuss Over Faux Faux Fur
A US labeling law from the 1950s, originally intended to keep retailers from passing rabbit fur coats off as mink, has now become a tool for preventing nearly the opposite. Department store Neiman Marcus recently settled a lawsuit based on the law, admitting it was selling coats trimmed with real fur, but labeling it as fake. In a curious twist of perception and demand, faux fur has become more appealing to many customers than the real deal, yet plenty of designers and manufacturers still use low-cost real fur as a matter of habit. The result is groups like PETA and the Humane Society scouring the web for mislabeled goods: clothing with trim that looks like real fur, and actually is.
The New York Times has the story.
March 18, 2013
Italian inventor Antonio De Rosa has struck a deal with the company in charge of the ghost of Polaroid’s brand, C&A Licensing, and announced hopes to begin marketing what he calls the SocialMatic camera in early 2014 – even though the project has no formal ties to Instagram. The SocialMatic will be a web-enabled digital camera with a Zink (zero ink) printer inside, so you can shoot pictures, apply filters, upload automatically, and then run off teensy little QR-code embedded hard copies. A Polaroid-branded Zink printer, the PoGo, which connects to your smartphone or computer via Bluetooth, has been available for some time, though. Will Instagram’s cache be enough to make the $350 SocialMatic fly? FastCoDesign’s Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan thinks it might actually work the other way around, with Instagram fans leveraging Polaroid’s history to “bolster their street cred as legit artists.”
Read the entire article, and take a look at some more renderings of the SocialMatic.
March 11, 2013
Two McGangBangs and a Quesarito, Please
Once upon a time, in California, no less, various In-N-Out Burger locations developed so-called secret menus, in response to repeated customer requests. Certain items were so widely beloved as to mature into a standing secret menu, which is available at every In-N-Out. You can order an off-menu Animal burger (mustard-grilled beef patties, grilled onions, and fries inside) from Sacramento to Dallas. Enterprising marketing minds at other fast-food franchises couldn’t ignore the trend, it turns out, and McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Chipotle, and Panera now have their own ‘secret’ menus. The difference is that these offerings were developed and rolled out in-house, not in response to grassroots demand. So what if these menus aren’t organic? Neither are the burgers…
March 04, 2013
Chicken-Fried Steak and a Side of US History
When we look for hints of how Americans lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the best resource may not be a museum, but a restaurant. In its quest to evoke the general store of years past, the Cracker Barrel chain of family restaurants has become one of the nation’s great collectors of tools and housewares from that era, purchasing thousands of items a year and funneling them through its Tennessee warehouse and restoration center. But unlike other antique-crammed chains like Chili’s and Applebee’s, Cracker Barrel sees itself as a true keeper of rural history, with an interactive section on its website explaining the purpose and origin of many items, and describing the restoration process. In the pursuit of an “authentic” dining environment, it turns out that the best assets may be actual pieces of history.
February 25, 2013
The Charm of Chinese Duplitecture
China’s talent for high-quality imitation is well-known in industry, but reaches perhaps its fullest expression in the creation of affluent suburbs. A new book, entitled “Original Copies”, chronicles the explosion of planned communities on the outskirts of Chinese cities that emulate small English towns, Swedish villages, or even Paris in its metropolitan glory, including a full-scale Eiffel Tower in a development in Hangzhou. Critics may sniff that it’s a step away from creativity, but Chinese homebuyers have embraced the trend eagerly, and the country’s designers appear to view it positively: “China’s plagiarists,” the reviewer observes, “believe they can advance more quickly by imitation than they can by direct innovation.”
February 18, 2013
Don’t Let FOMO Get You Down
FOMO stands for “fear of missing out,” and now, there’s an app for that. CouchCachet lets you be who you want people to think you are, automatically populating your Foursquare, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds with scintillating, inspiring, or of-the-moment content while you do… nothing. Or just catch up on Downtown Abbey, whichever. It’s intended as a joke, and it reads like one: your day’s “activities” are summarized for your perusal, complete with images and running commentary. But it’s also scarily real, being tuned in to your real-time location and the friends you’re connected with online. The events, lyrics, and pictures are all real, too; only someone actually in attendance at the party or concert in question would be the wiser.
Visit CouchCachet to learn more about getting a (fake) life.
February 11, 2013
Instant Brand, Just Add Product
Hessian is a brand that has a website, a logo, a color palette and a style guide. It’s got a collection of icons and patterns, and its own Twitter and Tumblr accounts. What it doesn’t have is a business behind it. This side project by designer Ben Pieratt was created purely as a branding exercise, to be as agnostic and broadly applicable as possible, and it’s available to anyone with $18,000 to spend. No word yet on whether Pieratt has any takers, but for a startup that wants to hit the ground running and doesn’t have any designers on staff, it might be just the ticket.
Read Wired’s explanation of the Hessian phenomenon.
February 04, 2013
Scaling the Mighty Empire State Building
From out of nowhere, it seems, stair running has become all the rage. A recent NY Times article profiles the small but passionate community of athletes who travel the world to race up the stairwells of tall buildings, citing its physical intensity as a motivator, and the symbolic thrill of scaling iconic towers through personal effort. A London non-profit called City Peaks is hoping to spread the activity to the masses, by equating the city’s notable buildings with lofty mountains, and encouraging participants to log in and post their times. It’s a uniquely modern, urban take on hiking and climbing, though the lack of scenery in a typical stairwell may limit its mass appeal.
January 28, 2013
What Fake Eagles Can Do For Your School
A viral Internet video that turns out to be a hoax is not big news these days. What’s more unusual is when that hoax gets 47 million views, turns a small Canadian college into an international phenomenon, and earns it enough money to aid students too. Centre NAD, an animation school in Montreal, gained global fame last month with an extremely convincing student-created video of a (simulated) Golden Eagle trying to fly off with a (simulated) baby. After officially debunking the film’s veracity, the school seized this unique opportunity to start a Google AdSense campaign, using the proceeds to create a scholarship for aspiring animators, who will presumably go on to make even more convincing fake videos.
January 22, 2013
Smell Like a Dude, in Zero G
The next human in space might get there courtesy of…Axe Body Spray. In a bizarre marketing alliance, the famously cheeky deodorant brand has signed on none other than Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin to create a sweepstakes, awarding one lucky Axe-user a trip into low earth orbit.
January 14, 2013
Welcome to the School of Scaring
There’s no real institution of higher learning called Monsters University, of course, but you’d never know it by visiting the website. To build buzz for the film of the same name, set to release this June, Monsters University has created a site for the fictional school where the movie is set, modeled closely on those of actual universities. Visitors can browse course offerings, see a map of the campus and buy MU merchandise…some of which is actually real.
Visit the site, and see if Monsters University is right for you.
Spotted by Ziba Brand Strategist Molly McGlynn.
January 07, 2013
When Fast Followers Get Too Fast
Superstar architect Zaha Hadid is facing competition from an unlikely source: her own fans. Imitation may still be the sincerest form of flattery, but in China it can sometimes come to life faster than the original does. A Hadid project currently under construction, the Wangjing SOHO, has a nearly identical copy underway in the southern city of Chongqing — and the copycat buildings are going up fast. The award-winning architect now finds herself in the curious position of having to speed up construction of her own design so that it doesn’t get overshadowed by the work of her imitators.
Read the details, and see more photos of the Wangjing SOHO (pictured here, at right) and its Chongqing doppelganger (at left) in Der Spiegel.
Spotted by Ziba Service Designer Steve Lee.
December 17, 2012
Is Middle Earth too Real for Real Fake?
What happens when technology makes a movie feel less fake in all the wrong ways? We’re finding out, as the Hobbit is proving too real for some filmgoers. It’s shot in 48 frames per second, twice the normal rate. People are complaining that it’s too lifelike. They claim the added clarity makes it feel less like a Hobbit on an adventure and more like a guy with fake feet pretending to be a halfling. Is 48 FPS a blip on film history—like so many Smell-o-visions before—or is hyperreality the future of film?
Read about more audience reactions to the Hobbit over at The Verge.
Image from a promotional poster for the Hobbit.
December 10, 2012
Samuel L. Jackson Is In All Your Games
The 2012 Spike Video Game Awards scored a bit of a coup by getting Samuel L. Jackson to host, and they’re making sure people don’t forget it. Rather than push traditional publicity photos out to the media, they’ve inserted Jackson into a number of popular video games, for a weird, charming artistic mashup that makes perfect sense.
December 03, 2012
Le Football Americain
In America’s suburbs, fascination with “exotic” sports like rugby and squash is often seen as a sign of sophistication or a broader worldview—so why should it be any different in France? In Nantes in particular, the sport of American football holds a special appeal for the region’s young adults, despite the sport’s extremely low profile in the country at large. Supporters have gone so far as to form a local league, Les Dockers des Nantes, complete with cheerleading squads and custom-ordered American-style uniforms.
See the article (in French) at Le Monde.
November 26, 2012
Making Lo-Res Real
Fans of Minecraft’s quirky, lo-fi virtual construction capabilities can now show off their creations in thoroughly familiar environments. The new Minecraft Reality app gives users the ability to insert a Minecraft model into any video clip, automatically manipulating it in 3D to match the video’s environment. While that may not sound like a big deal, the results are astonishingly realistic, and probably a welcome relief for builders tired of confining their favorite pixelated Porsche to a similarly chunky garage.
See what the app can do at the Minecraft Reality website.
November 19, 2012
Watching Cute Girl
The “Watching Cute Girl” app does exactly what it says, presenting users with steady video footage of a young woman staring directly at the camera, occasionally offering up brief comments or questions in Japanese. The app, produced as a kind of joke by stand-up comic Kendo Kobayashi, is ostensibly there to keep lonely men (we think) company while going about their work or chores. In practice, the effect sounds exceptionally creepy, though one reviewer points out that there may indeed be folks out there who’d happily spend 99 cents to be stared out all day.
November 13, 2012
As Real As It Gets
Fictitious products are finally getting an entire art gallery all to themselves, with the upcoming “As Real As It Gets” show at Apex Art in New York City. The show, curated by consumer culture journalist Rob Walker, brings together fake products going back over 20 years, from real world renditions of objects from film and story, to entire fictitious product lines designed to provoke questions about consumption and branding, especially in the modern US. In an up-to-the-minute twist, the show will also host a work session that lets attendees design and create their own imaginary products using TinkerCAD and a MakerBot 3D printer — a neat combination of Real Fake and Mass Geek, all in one evening.
Get the details at the exhibition’s website.
November 05, 2012
In the Midst of the Storm, Using Twitter for Good and Evil
In the annals of natural disasters, Hurricane Sandy is noteworthy not just for the way it exposed the weaknesses of coastal US cities, but for showing the value, and pitfalls, of social media in a crisis. Twitter has been praised by many observers as the ideal conduit for useful information during the storm, with government officials, utilities and news agencies providing frequent updates under the #Sandy hashtag. But despite a general suspension of Twitter’s typical sarcastic tone, a handful of users couldn’t resist hijacking all that attention with false information and images, including misattributed photos, acts of creative Photoshopping, and the occasional outright lie. In response, a number of journalists and bloggers have swung into action, debunking the fakes in detail, and calling out some of the most egregious offenders.
Not all fake Tweeting is bad, though. @ElBloombito, an account skewering NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg’s poor grasp of Spanish, spread transparently false information throughout the storm, and has been acclaimed by many New Yorkers as one of the best things to happen all week.
October 29, 2012
Branded Entertainment Gets Its Standard Bearer
Branded content, where advertisers play a starring role in a TV show or short, has been with us for several years now, but often in an ad hoc way, as ad agencies partner with studios or vice versa. A new venture called BB Hollywood aims to solidify the connection, and create a new creative business model in the process. The new agency, spun off an existing branding firm called Brooklyn Brothers, is staffed by veterans of both the advertising and media worlds, including seasoned TV writers and Hollywood regulars who’ve been navigating the product placement world for years.
Learn more about what might be the new standard in ad agencies, in the New York Times.
October 22, 2012
Why Not Holiday in The Shire?
Movie related tourism is nothing new, but New Zealand’s biggest tourist draw these days is unique in its scale and its fakeness. The “Hobbit Trail” is a bona fide travel itinerary complete with tour companies, buses and infrastructure, taking visitors from around the world to the well-maintained sets of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. With the upcoming release of part one of The Hobbit, local operators are preparing for even greater volume.
The New York Times has the article and slide show.
October 15, 2012
Democrats and Republicans, Meet Birds and Sparrows
Political races have always been accompanied by strange approaches to persuasive media, but the current presidential contest is moving into the territory of the patently, gleefully fake. First, there’s the Obama campaign’s recent “Big Bird” ad, which pokes fun at Romney’s intention to cut PBS funding by depicting the beloved Sesame Street character as a nefarious overlord who must be stopped. But a far stranger reaction to the recent presidential debate is “Eye of the Sparrow”, an intentional “bad lip reading” video that converts the debate into perplexing but realistic-looking gibberish. The intention appears non-partisan, but the result is a similarly disorienting step toward a world where the silliness of video is starting to match that of the real political campaign process.
October 08, 2012
Mining Your Tweets for The Next Big Thing
IBM has recently turned its considerable analytical muscle toward figuring what the cool kids are up to, by sorting through social media posts to spot trends before they start trending. The project, called “Birth of a Trend”, analyzes large volumes of communication on Twitter, Facebook and other services, in hopes of alerting brands to new niches to be exploited and earning them a jump on the competition. And while there’s some evidence that this kind of algorithm-based social prediction can be effective, it raises the question of whether a trend can still be considered cool if a computer’s able to spot it.
Read The High Low take on “Birth of a Trend”
October 01, 2012
A Street View Moment, Frozen in Time
Blurred out images of random pedestrians is a familiar by-product of Google Street View’s roving vans, but now an Italian artist named Paolo Cirio is turning those virtual captures into a part of the city landscape. Scanning digital records of Berlin, London and New York, he identifies the exact locations where people were photographed, and reproduces them in paper, pasting full-scale likenesses on the walls, next to existing graffiti and other urban decoration. The resulting project, called Street Ghosts, steals back the semi-permanent record presented on Google, and turns into something just as persistent on the street.
September 24, 2012
A Far Cry From Tiananmen
In the latest territorial clash between China and Japan, public protest becomes the face of government policy. Chinese citizens have been gathering in front of Japan’s Beijing embassy to protest their claim on the Diaoyu Islands (or Senkaku Islands, to the Japanese), but coverage by NPR suggests they’re largely the result of government organization. One onlooker interviewed in a recent story laments that he’s not scheduled to demonstrate that day, raising an unexpected question: if the crowd is officially sanctioned, is it a protest or a performance?
See the conversation, and the context, at NPR.
September 17, 2012
A Fountain of Youth for Your Photos
Instagram filters have gone through a few cycles of popularity and ridicule by now, perhaps making it inevitable that someone would eventually come up with a tool for “de-filtering” a photo. “Normalize” is a $1 app for the iPhone that does a decent job of restoring artificially aged images to their prior state. In fact, it even does a decent job on actual vintage photos. As this before/after example shows, a tool designed to keep modern photos looking modern may have stumbled on a way to make old ones look modern too.
See more examples of Normalize at work on Buzzfeed.
September 10, 2012
Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Humans
Imagine a city with all of the fantastical futuristic technology we’ve always dreamed about: self-driving cars, moving sidewalks, probably even that hoverboard from Back to the Future Part 2. Now stop imagining because, Washington Global Holdings plans to make this city a reality. It will be called the Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation, or CITE, and it’s on track to be complete by 2015. But before you rent a U-Haul, there’s a catch—you can’t live there unless you are a robot. CITE will only be used by “universities, companies and government agencies” to test futuristic technologies which could improve city life in a human-free, and presumably safer, environment.
Click through to Green Futures Magazine for more details and a rendering of what the city might look like.
September 04, 2012
eBay’s Magic Ban
As of August 30, if you want to sell something that doesn’t exist, you’ll have to do it somewhere besides eBay. Citing misclassifications and policy violations, the online auction and resale site is prohibiting the sale of “products” that have no tangible component, such as spells, curses, fortunes and other metaphysical services. As the article on Wired.com suggests, the move will probably alleviate some headaches for eBay’s customer service sector — who wants to deal with the angry customer who wants a refund for an underperforming spell? And while it may impact eBay’s business, the effect should be slight: a petition circulated to protest the ban attracted just over 1000 signatures.
Read the details at Wired.com.
August 27, 2012
IKEA Trades Up, from Chipboard to Pixels
After decades of photography featuring light-filled, Scandinavian-tinged visions of better living, mega-retailer IKEA is having its photographers put away their cameras and pick up their mice. Citing cost savings over live photography, and improvements in 3D rendering software, the furniture company announced that many of the images in its 2013 catalog will be computer generated. The carpenters and stylists who once worked on photo sets still have work to do, though: ensuring that the new computer modeled scenes don’t look too perfect.
Read the Wall Street Journal article, and learn whether the picture above is real or fake.
August 20, 2012
Floor Plan as Fan Fiction
Sherlock Holmes has been captivating legions of readers since he started deducing in the late 19th century, and they’ve been recreating minutiae from the stories for nearly as long. A recent article from Smithsonian magazine’s design blog looks specifically at the history of fan reconstructions of the great detective’s home, originally by inferring floor plans from the text of the stories. Now that Sherlock is a hugely popular BBC series, and 3D modeling tools are widely accessible, fan-generated versions of 221B Baker Street are reaching unprecedented levels of detail and fidelity.
Read the article, and marvel at what you can do with a copy of Minecraft or SketchUp, a lot of freeze-framing, and several months of spare time.
August 13, 2012
Go Ask the Digital Lady
There’s nothing remarkable about an interactive information display in an airport. When the display is shaped like six foot tall woman named Marie, however, people start to notice. “Marie” and her counterpart “Libby” were recently installed at LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports, respectively, using a combination of proximity sensing and digital projection to answer basic traveler questions like where to find the bathrooms and how to find a taxi. At $60,000 a piece, the avatars aren’t quite as cost-effective as a simple printed sign, but the attention they attract, especially from children and male travelers, appears to make them a reasonable investment.
August 06, 2012
Not a Game for the Ill-Tempered
The next release of FIFA Soccer for the XBox expects good manners as well as good gaming skills. According to an official announcement by game developer Electronic Arts, the 2013 installment of the popular series is using the power of Microsoft’s Kinect interface to make referees less forgiving of gamers who swear frequently, something it can now determine through voice recognition. It’s undeniably more realistic, but whether gamers will appreciate this new feature won’t be known until after the game’s September release.
The Telegraph has the details.
July 30, 2012
A Digital World Through the Photographer’s Eye
Photographers will often tell you that their art is more about how you see than what you look at; in the case of Austrian blog VideoGameTourism that’s true even if what you’re seeing is part of a game. The blog features photographs shot exclusively inside of virtual environments, often by professional photographers who bring their eye for composition into these meticulously crafted worlds, with stunning results.
July 23, 2012
Desperately Seeking Cindy
Cindy Sherman is far more than just a photographer. Since bursting onto the scene in the 1970s, she has fundamentally altered the art of self-portraiture, using elaborate costumes, make-up, sets and prosthetics to turn herself into thousands of different characters, often with emotionally wrenching effects. She’s also, unsurprisingly, inspired countless followers, including some who’ve turned her penchant for disguise on its head. In a recent episode of This American Life, host Ira Glass relates being approached at the Museum of Modern Art by a woman claiming to be Cindy Sherman, then being told by Sherman herself over the phone that it was an imposter. When the artist in question is defined by her imitative abilities, though, who can say?
July 16, 2012
Let Me Fix That Brand for You
Design students frequently get asked to work on theoretical projects for existing companies, but rarely do they have the impact of Andrew Kim’s recent redesign of the Microsoft brand identity. In just three days, the young ArtCenter student created a coherent system of logos and branded visuals that has captured the imagination of practically the entire tech-obsessed internet. His sharp, detailed approach unifies Microsoft’s mobile, online and software products, suddenly putting their brand in the same refined category as Apple, without looking like a copycat. More immediately, the examples he’s mocked up to depict its potential impact are extremely web-friendly, lending itself to slideshows and articles in dozens of major websites, and prompting legions design-savvy readers to start wondering why Windows can’t look this good in real life.
Take a look at the new Microsoft on Kim’s website, Minimally Minimal.
July 09, 2012
Don’t Forget to Rewind Radiolab When You’re Done
The debate about the value of skeuomorphism—“a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original”—in digital interfaces isn’t new. We will probably never agree whether skeuomorphic devices impede digital interfaces or makes us feel comfortable within them. But the use of a skeuomorphic tape deck in Apple’s new Podcasts app is particularly interesting because it represents something Podcasts were never associated with: a tape deck. They have always been a purely digital medium. In a typically Apple manner, it is modeled after a Dieter Ramsm designed product; the Braun TG 60 Tape Recorder.
Click over to The Unofficial Apple Weblog to see a screenshot and decide for yourself how important fake magnetic tape heads are in your enjoyment of the Grammer Girl podcast.
July 02, 2012
The Hottest New YA Titles are 200 Years Old
The ‘Twilight’ novel series achieved such incredible popularity among Young Adult audiences, it’s sparking its own trend in cover design. Publishers of classic romance tales like ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’ are putting out new versions with covers that aim to tie themselves to the genre’s soaring popularity, playing up the gothic angle in the case of the former, and gracing the latter with imagery reminiscent of fashion illustration (or a cheap romance novel, depending on who you ask). While the new covers aren’t fooling anyone into thinking ‘Jane Eyre’ is a story about Bella’s long lost sister, the visual association appears to be having some effect: one HarperCollins release of ‘Wuthering Heights’ has sold so well that it’s made it back onto the best-seller lists.
The New York Times has the story, and some more examples too.
‘Wuthering Heights’ cover via the HarperCollins website.
June 25, 2012
Nobody Knows My Fake Prada Bag is Real
A recent study in Shanghai found three quarters of shoppers interviewed actually preferred buying counterfeit luxury goods to the real thing. And while the impact of fakes on the equity of major brands like Burberry and Gucci has been debated for years, a recent blog post at The Economist’s website points out an unexpected side effect: high quality counterfeits are now so prevalent in China that genuine goods can often be mistaken for imitations. When your major selling point is authenticity, how do you make sure your audience knows about it?
Read the post at The Economist.
June 18, 2012
Filming the Steve Jobs of Our Dreams
“The Social Network” was a strange and wonderful movie, earning praise from viewers and plenty of critical acclaim while being scorned for its blatant inaccuracies. Its veteran screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, now has a film about Steve Jobs in the works, and by all accounts it will be similarly fascinating…and similarly fabricated. A recent interview in the New York Times has Sorkin discussing the dramatic aspects of Jobs’ life and why his story is so film-worthy, but as designer and tech blogger Khoi Vinh points out, there’s zero mention of historical accuracy. But given Sorkin’s previous success taking liberties with the life of Zuckerberg, and the terrible track record of more factually-based stories about Silicon Valley’s growth, he wonders if that’s such a bad thing.
June 11, 2012
Real Money for Your Fake New Company
Jotly was an idea for a fake mobile app that showed up here in the Real Fake blog last October, claiming to offer users a way to rate absolutely everything on earth, from a crumpled leaf on the sidewalk to the best and worst ice cubes in a glass of water. Back then, it was an example of Silicon Valley’s commentary on its own absurdities, but now it appears that even dismissive jokes are raising the interest of investors. A recent Wall Street Journal article investigates the strange phenomenon of tongue-in-cheek proposals getting real venture capital backing. The jury’s still out on whether this indicates the creative power of playful thinking, or an investment climate so obsessed with finding the next Facebook that logic gets left in the dust.
Read more about it at the WSJ.
June 04, 2012
Real Allotments in a Virtual World
Abbey Parks is riding the Farmville craze into uncharted territory. This small farm in the English county of Lincolnshire now offers a service called iGrow, in which subscribers can purchase an allotment of land, decide what’s to be planted there, and virtually oversee the development of their crops, all without leaving the comfort of home. For those familiar with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, it may seem like a slightly more hands-on approach to an old model. But if the dramatic success of virtual farming games over the past few years is any indication, this might be a nifty way to enroll new customers who want some virtual thrills from their asparagus and carrots.
May 29, 2012
False X-Rays of Dying Devices
Another clever artist, another beautiful way of exploring the legacy of technology. Photographer Max de Esteban creates haunting images of once-cutting-edge gadgets like Super 8 cameras and manual typewriters by taking them apart a layer at a time and compositing photographs of their white-painted innards. The results are more ethereal than a real X-Ray would be, while acknowledging the analog, labor-intensive nature of the products they depict.
Browse the entire set at de Esteban’s site.
May 21, 2012
Dressing Up a Digital Past
In a bizarre but refreshing twist on postmodern portraiture, German photographer Patrick Runte brings us “Jump n Run”, a photo series in which humans act out real life versions of classic arcade games. Instead of rigidly recreating standards like Pong, Pac Man and Tetris (pictured) the images combine enough costumes and props to identify the game, but inject a level of dynamic play absent in the original. The results feel supremely charming and innocent; closer to nostalgic recollection than literal homage.
Browse through the rest of the series at Runte’s own site.
May 14, 2012
Mob Marketing, With Plenty of Question Marks
Guerilla marketing campaigns can take a lot of forms, some more effective than others. Near the head-scratching end of that spectrum lies this “protest” mob, sent by Blackberry’s parent company, Research In Motion, to an Apple store in Sydney. Dressed in black and repeatedly shouting “Wake Up,” the crowd is ostensibly part of a campaign to promote the new Blackberry operating system, but judging by press and social media reactions, it may have done more to confuse onlookers than communicate a message.
See the video and read the perplexed reaction at PSFK.
May 07, 2012
A Job You Really Shouldn’t Be Qualified For
A remarkable series of advertisements in the Jobs section of the Guardian newspaper last week are not job postings at all, but a clever way of earning attention for UK non-profit Freedom From Torture. The ads, visually indistinguishable from the more typical postings that surround them, describe open positions for Torturers, Abusers and Kidnappers, prompting an effective shock of recognition from readers, and serving as a reminder that such professions are still active throughout the world.
April 30, 2012
Fake Mall, Digital Cash, Real Business
In order to demonstrate the myriad ways it can be used to make in-store purchases easier, PayPal could’ve just made a video or an explanatory booklet. Instead, they built a mall. Potential retail partners can visit the small shopping center attached to PayPal’s San Jose headquarters, to see the advantages of digital payment technology in real time. It’s fully stocked with tastefully arrayed merchandise and cutting-edge electronic payment options…but no customers.
Read more about the faux mall at MIT Tech Review.
April 23, 2012
Stocking Up on Real Humans
Stock photos as we know them have a very specific feel—almost an inherent sense of inauthenticity. With the motto “Fake People Suck,” Citizen Stock is trying to make stock photos better, for the people that have to look at them and for the models. They use real citizens of New York, anyone that wants to participate in fact, and pay the models only if an image of them is licensed. The results still have a specific professional look, but they’re more authentic and potentially more lucrative for the people whose faces could appear anywhere and everywhere.
April 16, 2012
Tupac Takes Coachella
The most talked about act in yesterday’s lineup at the Coachella Music Festival has been dead for 16 years. Legendary hip hop artist Tupac Shakur, murdered under mysterious circumstances in 1996, was resurrected as an onstage hologram to perform a duet with a still very much alive Snoop Dogg. The performance included some shiver-inducing flourishes, including a customized shout out to the fans Coachella, and a fade out into a blaze of twinkling lights at the end of the set. Responses have ranged from nostalgic to uncomfortable (“Please never put me on stage with a hologram of my dead friend,” tweeted one commenter), but they’re unanimous on one count: last Sunday, a digital facsimile managed to upstage dozens of the world’s most renowned live performers.
April 09, 2012
Architects Who Live in Glass Houses
Architectural codes in the small Dutch town of Schjindel are uncommonly strict, heavily favoring new construction that matches the hip-roofed farmhouses traditional to the region. So architecture studio MVRDV designed one, but at four times the normal size, and sheathed entirely in glass. While technically compliant with zoning regulations, the building is actually a multi-use development that includes multiple shops and restaurants, and doubles down on the joke by projecting overscaled images of a farmhouse on the walls at night.
See more photos of this clever building at FastCoDesign.
April 02, 2012
April Fool! But Seriously...
Major corporations and public agencies have been getting in on the fun of April Fools more and more lately, but this year has seen several pranks with deeper pragmatic intentions. Google, long known for its clever in-jokes, used the opportunity to trumpet recent advances in driverless car technology by announcing plans to have them compete in NASCAR, while its subsidiary YouTube made a point about volume and ubiquity by announcing the release of every video it’s ever hosted, as a single DVD collection that takes 175 trucks to deliver.
More urgently, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities in Philadelphia pulled a trick aimed at saving the lives of pedestrians. A newly designated “E-Lane” offers oblivious walkers a dedicated corridor to do their texting and smartphone browsing without getting run over — a unique and highly noticeable way to make a point about staying aware in the big city.
March 26, 2012
It’s Fake, and That’s Fine
Fake authenticity is nothing new, but apparently some folks are still getting comfortable with the notion. A recent article by marketing creative guy Michael Raisanen gives a quick rundown of branding and pop culture phenomena from the past few years that present a nostalgic face with no pretense of actual authenticity. The examples are familiar — ‘Portlandia,’ NYC hipster favorite Freemans, even J. Crew’s foray into faux old school fashion — but the level of detail and some suggestions as to why they’ve been successful makes it worth a read.
March 19, 2012
The most heavily downloaded podcast in the history of This American Life turned out to be partially fake, and the consequences have been dramatic. Based on a monologue by performance artist Mike Daisey, the popular radio program exposed harsh working conditions and labor practices at Chinese factories making Apple products, but was publicly retracted on Friday after it was revealed that several key moments in the story weren’t factually accurate. Daisey, who is interviewed in the Retraction episode, defends his actions by appealing to the greater truth his story tells, but the sometimes excruciating exchange between artist and journalist drives home the dangers of playing loose with the facts. The gap between Real and Fake, it turns out, is still a wide one in plenty of contexts.
Learn more, and listen to one of the most important (and difficult) podcasts in the history of This American Life.
March 12, 2012
London College Simulates a Bit of Oxford for Promising Students
In London’s working class neighborhood of Hackney, the principal of a small college is doing everything he can to prepare his students for greatness. Since most of them have spent their entire school careers in modern buildings, that includes re-creating the historic environment of an Oxford study room, to help ease their transition. The room, put together in a disused storage space using about $11,000 worth of thrift shop finds, is proving popular among aspiring students who see the move as a sign of improving economic and class mobility.
Read more about it at The Evening Standard.
March 05, 2012
Twitter Made Me Breakfast
Tim Burgess, lead singer of 90s indie pop band The Charlatans, wasn’t looking to get into the breakfast cereal business, he was just trying to be funny. "Just invented a breakfast cereal called Totes Amazeballs™. Kellogg’s are interested,” he wrote to his Twitter followers, and Kellogg’s noticed. A limited run cereal of the same name is set to debut at a UK music festival in July of this year, where Burgess will be both performing and selling boxes of the stuff.
Read more about the the strange saga of Totes Amazeballs at The Guardian.
February 27, 2012
Threadless Goes Weightless
Hip young T-shirt purveyor Threadless now offers its goods in pixels and bits as well as organic cotton. As of January 24, XBox players who have gone to the trouble of customizing their on-screen avatars have the option of dressing them up in the same Threadless shirts that they own in real life. More than just creating a new revenue stream, the company writes in its blog that the move is a step toward “making the line between reality and fiction obsolete.”
Read what else they have to say at Threadless.com.
February 20, 2012
The Future of Elder Care is Here, and It’s Creepy
Dutch photographer Arjen Born’s latest project explores a thoroughly plausible future in which an overabundance of elderly in need of care and assistance are catered to by autonomous technology. Not quite the “friendly helper robots” that sometimes populate with such speculations, Born’s automatons do their jobs of cleaning, feeding and diagnosing the elderly with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of emotional consideration. The results are sobering, spooky and sometime hilarious.
February 13, 2012
Fake Rhino, Real Cute
Having a ferocious animal escape from the zoo is a scary scenario and a real threat. Zoos have processes and plans in case of this type of emergency, but letting a wild animal loose is not really something a team can practice reacting for. So what better way to rehearse than with an adorable papier-mâché rhinoceros? That’s exactly what happened at the Ueno zoo in Tokyo. Two employees controlled the faux-rhino while the rest of the staff helped visitors to safety and fought off the super cute representation of the threat.
Click through to the Guardian to see a video.
February 06, 2012
Puppets Take the Witness Stand
Courtrooms are off limits to news cameras, but some trials, like a recent high-profile corruption case in Ohio, are too tantalizing to miss. Local station WOIO decided on a unique solution to this conundrum: puppets. The station’s evening news program included re-enactments of key scenes from the trial using plush stand-ins, rather than the typical courtroom sketches. A station spokesperson acknowledges that the approach is more than a little satirical, but the sensational, sordid dialog is all true to life.
Read more at WTOV.
January 30, 2012
Surfing For The Landlocked Masses
Let’s face it: surfing, and surfers, are really cool. We would all like to be tanned, fit and able to shred some serious swells. But most of us aren’t so lucky, nor do many of us live by the ocean. A company called Surf Set Fitness is trying to bring surfing to all those in the middle of the country with its Ripsurfer X—essentially a treadmill for surfing. It looks like it can recreate the surfing experience pretty well, but how is this going to help us get more tan?
Learn more and see the Ripsurfer X in action at the Surf Set Fitness website.
Image via the Surf Set Fitness website.
January 23, 2012
The Wisdom of Vermin Supreme
New Hampshire’s unusually loose requirements for getting your name on a presidential primary ballot has prompted some interesting candidates over the years, but perhaps none so fantastic as Vermin Supreme. Wearing a boot on his head and running on a platform that includes mandatory toothbrushing and a pony for every American, the bearded performance artist takes participation-as-criticism to a new level, most recently in a well-publicized “glitter bomb” attack on a fellow candidate for statements opposing gay marriage.
January 16, 2012
Giant Polaroid-like Lamp, No Shaking Required
Originally popular for their incredible convenience, the Polaroid look—that iconic frame and slice-of-life aesthetic—has withstood the transition from film to digital images. Two designers are doing their part to hang onto the Polaroid look with Polaboy. Polaboy frames a photo in a way that is highly reminiscent of a Polaroid—but also makes it giant and illuminated. It’s a cool effect that even doubles as a lamp at night.
Read the entire Polaboy story, and shop for one of your own, at the Polaboy website.
January 10, 2012
Party at Bill’s Dorm, He Lives In The Old West Saloon
Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts is putting a unique spin on the college dorm. Chapman is building a dorm for its film students that will play double duty as a movie set. Buildings will be styled in a theme—high school hallway complete with lockers, for example. The 397-bed “Filmmaker’s Village” will cost $100 million and is set to welcome it’s first future Michael Bays and Sofia Coppolas in the Fall of 2013.
OC Metro has the details.
January 03, 2012
Mineways Helps You Turn Your Minecraft Creations Into Real Objects
The block-based video game Minecraft has become a huge hit, partially based on the freedom it gives the player to create anything they can come up with. Do you want to build a giant castle with passageways to underground caverns? Have at it. A pixel-by-pixel recreation of the original Super Mario Brothers game? Go nuts. People have even created working electronic circuits within the Minecraft world. Mineways is software program developed by Eric Haines that takes that creative power even further. It helps players turn their Minecraft creations into physical objects by converting them into 3D printer-ready models. Best of all, it’s an open source and free way to pluck your pixelated creations out of the virtual world and into your living room.
Read more about Mineways and see an example go from Minecraft to physical object at The Verge.
December 19, 2011
Bored with Billboards? Build a Bill Board.
As fans of the pun, we’re enjoying the latest piece of art by John Baldesseri. Baldesseri once burned a pile of his paintings before baking the ashes into cookies and is known for his self-proclaimed ‘never boring’ art. This time he has erected a giant $100,000 bill above traffic in New York City. That’s right, it’s a bill board. Unless you’re of titanic proportions this one is clearly fake, but $100,000 bills do exist, complete with Woodrow Wilson’s unconcerned mug.
Fast Company has more details and speculates about what the giant bill could mean.
December 12, 2011
H&M Tells the Truth About its Fake Models
Gawker Media’s Jezebel blog recently outed mega-retailer H&M on a dirty little secret: none of its models are real. The Swedish chain admitted that the models on its website have digitally generated bodies with real heads superimposed — apparently human beings don’t flatter their clothes sufficiently. It raises the question though: does anyone care? Jezebel makes a joke about how one day “we’ll buy all of our clothing from cyborgs,” but in a world where every pretty face is assumed to be Photoshopped, an announcement like this is less shocking than it would have been a few years back. Some might even praise H&M for their honesty — even if the results are intentionally misleading.
Read about the brave new world of digital modeling at Jezebel.
Image via H&M Online Store.
December 05, 2011
Plugging Your iPod Into the Past
An iPod speaker doesn’t have to look like a glossy white spaceship, you know. Artist and designer Devin Ward has taken an unusual approach to digital audio, by retrofitting old radios with ⅛” headphone jacks, and selling them on Etsy. He warns that some speakers may make a little bit of audio hiss in the background (they’re still radios, after all,) but for the truly nostalgic that might just add to the appeal.
November 28, 2011
A Place to Fix Your Imaginary Robot
Cross a student art project with a pop-up shop and a heap of retro-futurism, and you get something like Fraley’s Robot Repair Shop, a year-long installation that opened recently in Pittsburgh. Like the NuPenny shops mentioned here in July, Fraley’s is closed to entry, demanding that visitors view its quirky creations through a glass storefront. Unlike NuPenny, it offers easy access to background information, with QR codes and a website showing how the space and its contents were conceived and constructed.
Read more about Fraley’s at the Pittsburgh Robot Repair website.
November 21, 2011
The Littlest Landscapes
Hong Kong designers Chan Oi Yau Riyo and Kwong Ho Sun Howard take the charm of your favorite snow globe, shrink it, and make it wearable. The duo’s Fragmented Chronicles project consists of 100 different scenes, from fairy tale forests to everyday chores, rendered as detailed micro-landscapes and embedded in pieces of acrylic jewelry. The rings are for sale, but only during Tokyo Design Week 2011, so if you want a tiny nun or lumberjack on your finger you’d better get packing.
November 14, 2011
Catering to London’s Monsters and Young Writers
A writing charity concept featuring fake storefronts, first started in San Francisco, has now hopped the pond. The charity, called 826 Valencia, pairs disadvantaged youth with professional writers behind a facade that sells, of all things, pirate supplies. The concept has since grown into a movement: fake stores can be found in 8 US cities, selling everything from equipment for superheros to intergalactic travel gear. The latest riff on 826 comes to us from London, in the form of Monster Supplies on Hoxton Street, connected with a UK charity called The Ministry of Stories. Opened in late 2010 and sponsored by none other than “Fever Pitch” author Nick Hornby, it offers writing workshops in the back, and a pitch-perfect retail space in the front selling everything from Fang Floss to cans of Escalating Panic.
November 07, 2011
An Artistic New Life for Your Knickknacks
Artist Tom Deininger uses everyday objects to create eccentric pieces of art. One such example is the re-creation of a famous Monet painting, made by assembling small toys and other plastic tchotchkes. While the appeal of the piece is somewhat polarizing, the sculpture suggests that common objects can take on an entirely different meaning depending on their broader context.
Spot your favorite toy in this Monet replica.
October 31, 2011
Objects in Disguise
Designer Tove Thambert takes an unusual spin on camouflage, crafting dumbbells that look like candlesticks and walking canes that resemble (non-functioning) umbrellas. Meant as a commentary on gender roles rather than a truly convincing masquerade, the collection of accessories draws attention to itself by trying to hide, and failing.
See what the fashionably deceitful gentleman is wearing at Fast Company.
October 24, 2011
Everything In Your Life is Interesting
Life imitates art in the app store. From Foursquare to Yelp to Netflix, it’s starting to seem like just about every object, place and experience on earth has an app that lets you rate it and share your rating with friends, and clever satirists are noticing. Spoofing this trend toward obsessive analysis, Jotly.co features a fairly convincing film about a fake app that lets you rate anything and everything, down to picking which leaf on your favorite tree is the best one. But now the joke threatens to turn into reality, as Digg founder Kevin Rose announces the impending release of Oink, an app that will allow you to rate, for example, a specific dish in a restaurant.
Thumbs up for the thumb rock via Flickr user gliuoo
October 17, 2011
The Imitation of Art
The Remake Project is a simple idea — take a famous painting and replicate it in a photograph — with breathtaking results. The competition urges participants to keep things as basic as possible, ruling out collages, illustration or post-processing, instead placing the emphasis on creative staging and posing. The submissions won’t fool anyone into thinking they’re originals, offering instead a charming shock of recognition upon seeing, say, a scraggly-bearded guy with a towel wrapped around his head and thinking, “Hey, that’s ‘The Girl With The Pearl Earring’!”
Entries close October 21, so check out booooooom.com and submit your own.
“The Girl With The Pearl Earring” remake by Gayle Walsworth.
October 10, 2011
A Sweet Seat
Visitors to Beijing Design Week 2011 were treated to an imaginative yet functional take on commodity cake ingredients by Vienna architect Dejana Kabiljo. Stacked sacks of flour are topped with a thick, luscious layer of polyol foam frosting that mimics the gooey texture of icing.
See more photos and other highlights from Beijing Design Week at dezeen.com.
October 03, 2011
Campaign Recontextualizes Classic Album Art
Have you ever wondered what inspired your favorite album cover art? Or what that concept would look like realized and contextualized in your own world? The new French Internet radio site Oüi FM answers those questions with a new campaign, designed by Leg Sur and a tagline that promises: “Rock is here to change your life.”
Check out all the real fake album art on paranoias.org.
September 26, 2011
Faux Follies of the Future
Any student of European architecture can tell you that a “folly” is a fake ruin, often aping a Roman temple or Chinese pagoda, built in a park or on an estate to add visual interest to the landscape. The Parc des Bords de Seine, on the outskirts of Paris, will soon have about a dozen of them. But these modern follies are even faker than the fakery they seek to mimic. By locating them in a public park and giving them a touch of functionality — they’ll serve as viewpoints and rain shelters — architecture firm AWP-HHF is dropping the exclusivity and pointlessness, but keeping the whimsy and bizarre incongruity.
See the 21st century’s answer to a faux Roman ruin at FastCoDesign.
September 19, 2011
Steven Johnson’s Alternate Realities
In a world of self-styled “futurists”, Steven Johnson stands alone. A former urban planner and trends analyst, Johnson has spent the past three decades using his considerable cartooning skills to invent new products that are just a hair past plausible. Think driveable hot tubs that wouldn’t look out of place in Vegas, or a bike that collapses into a vest. Or, think scenarios for Apple’s ill-fated Newton tablet that look remarkably prescient over 15 years after the fact. The thoughtfulness, humor and detail in Johnson’s illustrations prove that the divide between Real and Fake is sometimes just a matter of time and will.
See a retrospective of his work in The Atlantic.
September 12, 2011
A Map To Lose Yourself In
In 1963, Jerry Gretzinger began drawing a map of nowhere in particular. Almost 50 years later, it’s grown into an entire ficticious planet, beautifully rendered, and with a meticulous procedure for its continual expansion and modification. As a short documentary on Vimeo shows, Gretzinger isn’t just an artist with a vision, but an attentive engineer using principles of urban planning and game theory to direct his process. In an era when every bit of land on planet Earth has been surveyed, this mapmaker stirs a bit of the wonder that last century’s explorers and cartographers must have experienced.
August 29, 2011
A PAC to End All PACs
Even more than his counterpart John Stewart, faux political commentator Stephen Colbert has mastered the art of taunting the establishment by pretending to join in. But his latest critique of American politics has Colbert stepping beyond satire to active participation. “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” is an actual registered Super PAC he helped create. The committee is busy raising money from undisclosed donors and using it to fund absurd political TV ads, most recently in Iowa during the Republican Straw Poll. Critics accuse the PAC of subverting the system, but as one NY Times analyst notes, “Maybe the whole system has become such a joke that only jokes will serve as a corrective.”
August 22, 2011
Fake Apps Ape Online Obsession
‘Childster’, ‘Weaselface’ and ‘Invisble Me’ are iPhone apps designed by David Byrne, but you can’t actually buy them. Instead, their convincingly rendered screenshots form a commentary on current trends in social behavior, as observed by Byrne, for an upcoming exhibition at the Pace Gallery in New York. The idea of fake apps as art is certainly clever, but what makes these so compelling is how closely they skirt the edges of believability and desirability — what busy, tech-dependent parent hasn’t wished for an app that could keep an eye on the kids for a few minutes?
Check out the details on PSFK.
August 15, 2011
Street Art With iPhone
If the only thing stopping you from becoming the next Banksy is the fear of legal repercussions, Street Tag is the iPhone app for you. The app uses your iPhone’s camera and augmented reality to let you overlay faux graffiti on any wall you would like, just point and virtually spray. You can even use GPS to let others know where they can see your masterpiece. Next up: an Exit Through The Gift Shop of your own.
See some screenshots and read more at the Creative Review.
August 08, 2011
World of Warcraft World
Theme parks are already manufactured realities, drawing from popular fiction to create immersive fantasies with a touch of familiarity. The “Joyland” park in Changzhou, China goes one better though, by basing itself on the hugely popular series of Starcraft and Warcraft video games, and doing it without the aid or blessing of Blizzard Entertainment, the games’ creator. Whether such a strategy can be viable in the long term is still up in the air, but meanwhile, the pictures are pretty great.
August 01, 2011
Kunming’s Beautiful Ripoff
China’s fake Apple Stores have received a pile of media attention recently, not because they’re a new phenomenon (they’re not), but because of the incredible quality of their fakery. The American blogger, who exposed three fake stores in Kunming, described one as “the best ripoff store we had ever seen,” noting that even the stores employee’s believed they were working for the real thing. In a nation that has elevated imitation to a high art, their minute attention to detail sets a new standard. Apple, however, remains unflattered.
July 25, 2011
Save Yourself a Trip to the Market by Taking the Subway
In a blow to people playing drums made out of plastic buckets everywhere, South Korean grocery store Home Plus is giving subway riders something else to do while they wait for their train: shop for groceries. Home Plus has plastered the walls of a subway station with pictures of grocery shelves. Browse the ‘aisles’ and take pictures of the products you want. By the time you make it home, the groceries will be at your doorstep. So far, it’s a hit—more than 10,000 people have used the subway station to buy groceries.
Learn how this technology works at MIT’s Technology Review.
July 18, 2011
Visual artist Randy Regier brings a sense of yearning and wonder to his art by presenting it as a locked toy store. The NuPenny Toy Store is a touring installation, permanently closed to the public, that moves from small town to small town across America and is filled with Regier’s magnificent retro-futuristic toys. Art is viewable only through the windows, and descriptions are rendered in a difficult “teletype” code, all to enhance the “experiences of desire and longing” the artist hopes to explore.
See the toys, from a distance, at the NuPenny website.
July 12, 2011
A Comic Within a Comic
Alternate, alternate realities? Graphic novels are known for offering readers altered versions of reality. Now, London based design firm BERG brings us a comic with yet another reality hidden within. “SVK” tells the story of a disgraced spy searching for a lost top-secret package. However, a second story is unfolding in the dark. Readers use a wallet-sized UV flashlight to reveal the hidden tale. Discover the reality behind reality and get two escapes for the price of one!
July 05, 2011
A Fake Park for Real Relaxation
Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has taken a step towards making the cruel and unusual air travel experience a little bit better. Living up to its name, Schiphol’s “Airport Park” is just that: a park inside the airport, or as close as those confines will allow. The trees are live trees, real nature sounds are piped in, and the furniture is ivy colored. If you don’t look too close you might mistake the projected butterflies for real ones. There’s even an outdoor terrace to remind you that the world is really there after a five hour delay. The press release mentions the park’s ‘peace and serenity’—a pleasant change of pace in an era of obnoxious air travel.
Check out the photo gallery at Fast Company.
June 27, 2011
A Daily Newspaper That’s 150 Years Old
It sounds shocking, but the American Civil War took place before the Internet. We know what you’re thinking: how did they get their news? The answer is newspapers—real ink on real paper that you had to obtain by hand. A&E has recreated and improved the Civil War newspaper experience with the Civil War Daily app for the iPad. It’s a virtual newspaper that looks like a physical newspaper, delivered daily, reporting the latest on Civil War happenings. Rather than reading like a textbook, the Civil War Daily reports news as if it’s happening today, 150 years ago. Grab your musket and your iPad and don’t be afraid to mix metaphors while you catch up on history.
June 20, 2011
In The Future, Robots Will Wear Our Clothes
There seems to be a technological race on to figure out the best way to not have people try on clothes. We wrote last month about Topshop’s virtual reality changing room, but now an Estonian company called Fits.Me is bringing out the droids. The FitBot is a customizable mannequin that adjusts to any measurements it’s given, allowing online shoppers to transform it into their real life avatar and see how it looks in an article of clothing.
Read the Fast Company article, and watch the mesmerizing video.
June 13, 2011
Banksy’s Movie Gets a Legal Leg Up
Legendary street artist Banksy has been blurring lines between real and fake for years, and his Oscar-nominated movie “Exit Through The Gift Shop” was no exception. Its bizarre plot prompted dozens of critics and journalists to cry hoax, putting its star, French artist Thierry Guetta, sharply on the defensive. A recent UK court case has taken a step toward clarification by ruling for Guetta in a high profile copyright case, but whether this is the truth coming out or just another layer in an elaborate prank is anyone’s guess.
June 06, 2011
Disney Droids Go Through Your Luggage
The recently refurbished Star Tours ride at Disney World has more than just new storylines and updated decor, it’s also added a “security checkpoint” that mimics a TSA screening. Conducted by a pair of security droids (who may “verbally accost you”), the process sounds similar to an airport scan, complete with a thermal imager taking the place of an X-ray. The writeup makes it clear that this is all in the name of fun, but reactions from BoingBoing and security analyst Bruce Schneier lament that security screening is now seen as a normal part of the travel experience — even at a theme park.
May 31, 2011
A Ghost Hotel That Never Was
New York’s plush McKittrick Hotel was shuttered in 1939, mere weeks after it opened, and has stayed perfectly preserved until its re-opening earlier this year. That’s the story anyway. British production company Punchdrunk has gone to great lengths to create an immersive theatrical experience called Sleep No More, based on the premise of a creepy re-discovered hotel filled with bizarre clues and symbols. More than just tricking out the space, they’ve supported their story with blog posts about the hotel’s fake history, on some fairly credible websites.
May 23, 2011
To Survive a Hurricane, Prepare For Zombies
The Walking Dead, Left 4 Dead, Dawn of the Dead—in almost every medium, pop culture has taught us to fear zombies. Imagine you wake up, look out the window, and see nothing but shambling corpses clogging the streets. What do you do? With their real guide to surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, the Center for Disease Control has your answer. The guide has drawn so much attention it actually crashed the CDC website for a time. Critics have panned it as a poor use of tax dollars, but the CDC sees it as a fun way to get people to actually be prepared in the event of an emergency—albeit probably one with fewer brains eaten.
May 16, 2011
Do These Pixels Make Me Look Fat?
Since its release, the xBox 360 peripheral Kinect has been repurposed, remixed, and generally hacked every which way. Now UK-based Topshop is taking it mainstream by giving Moscow shoppers a taste of virtual reality for a week. A Kinect-enabled kiosk uses 3D scanning to show shoppers what they’d look like in a range of dresses and outfits available right there in the flagship store. It does seem a bit odd to be using all this technology to try on something that’s practically within arm’s reach, but the shoppers in the video below do seem to be having a pretty good time.
Read the press release and check out the video at Wired.
May 09, 2011
Sir Frances Drake was From New Jersey?
Today, the internet puts an almost unimaginable amount of information right at our fingertips. The problem, especially for students, is deciding which information is worthwhile. A group of teachers created the website All About Explorers to help with just that. Students visiting All About Explorers will find a treasure trove of knowledge about the world’s best known explorers—all of it hilariously fake. Once past the fake biographies, students get real resources to help them learn what is worth their online study time and what isn’t.
Get to know your sources at All About Explorers.
May 02, 2011
The End of Awkward Dates?
Finding that special someone can be difficult. Cloud Girlfriend wants to make it easier by providing some courting practice, under the guise of whatever you choose. Described by its founder as a mix between Match.com and Second Life, Cloud Girlfriend lets you represent yourself any way you like. You pick from existing photos, none of which are of you, and answer some basic either/or questions. Next you choose who to chat with from other made-up profiles. The idea is to gain confidence by putting your “best” face forward and getting the chance to interact with others who, in the Cloud Girlfriend world at least, match up as the date of your dreams.
April 25, 2011
All the Memories of Vacation, Without the Sunburn
Have you ever been to Greece? It doesn’t matter! Finally you can make your friends jealous of your Greek island hopping, even if it never actually happened. UptoyouToronto is selling undeveloped digital cameras—full of photos taken in Greece by a professional photographer. At $45, it’s much less expensive than an actual vacation, albiet probably not as fun.
Gizmodo suggests voyeurs might enjoy this as well.
April 25, 2011
Accidentally Taking Liberties with Liberty's Image
The US Postal Service recently released a postage stamp featuring what was purported to be the Statue of Liberty. Turns out it was actually Lady Liberty’s younger sister, a half-sized replica in Las Vegas. Without context, the two look so similar that the error wasn’t caught until an eagle-eyed stamp collector noticed a few subtle differences. USPS says they regret the error, but also claims they would have used the photo even if they were aware which statue it actually was.
April 18, 2011
Relive the Old Days of Handheld Gaming
Nintendo recently released the 3DS, a glasses-free 3D handheld video game system. Depending on your age and nerd quotient, you may have fond memories of a different kind of hand held electronic video game: one with no 3D, no color, and a bit less immersion. Hipopotam Studio has exhaustively recreated quite a few of these for their Pica Pic project which lets you relive classics such as “Plane and Tank”, “Thief in Garden”, and “Coffee House”.
Visit the website to get your retro gaming on. You’ll never beat our high scores.
April 18, 2011
The High Life: Drink It In
Being a celebrity sounds great. They get to enjoy special treatment, glorious vacations and…far superior tap water? UNICEF’s Celebrity Tap Project lets you order bottles of tap water directly from the tap of your favorite celebrity, with the proceeds going to clean water initiatives. It sounds ridiculous, and it is. The website is very tongue-in-cheek and self aware. Have fun being lost in the glamour for a few minutes, it’s for a good cause.
Order your celebrity tap water at the official website.
April 11, 2011
Purely Hypothetical Buildings
If you could turn any real building into anything you could imagine, what would you create? Journalist and author Rob Walker encourages that question, and discourages boring realistic thinking, with his Hypothetical Development Organization. The ‘organization’ places signs on derelict buildings around New Orleans illustrating what each building could hypothetically become, as long as plausibility isn’t a requirement.
April 04, 2011
Virtual Reality is Now Reality on the Farm
We all have that friend with one eye perpetually on Facebook, altogether too worried about his withering FarmVille crops. Finally get a glimpse into what may be going on inside his head as the virtual farm becomes reality. Zynga, the casual video game company behind FarmVille, Mafia Wars, FrontierVille and now CityVille, has brought three of its famous game locations to life in New York.
March 28, 2011
Knockoff Luxury Gets Its Own Show
Conceptual artist Item Idem and online fashion magazine DIS team up to give fakery its due. “Shanzhai Anxiety” opened on March 4 at Colette in Paris, and features immaculately staged photographs of counterfeit and imitation goods, ranging from Mickey-Mouse-meets-Gucci watches to “Giorgio Mirani” and “Lakost” fragrances. The accompanying essay examines the idea of status anxiety in a world where production has become detached from shared cultural significance, with some fascinating results.
March 21, 2011
Virtual Cows to the Rescue
Text messaging has already had a massive impact on the way charities solicit donations, especially in times of crisis. In the wake of Japan’s recent devastation, social media game giant Zynga is courting potential donors in a new, and potentially even more effective way, by dropping opportunities to help directly into popular online games. In partnership with Save the Children, Zynga offers FarmVille players the chance to “buy” a special daikon radish crop for their virtual farm by donating $10 to the relief effort, and donation buttons have shown up in other Zynga games such as zBar and Words With Friends.
See a range of new approaches to disaster relief at the Save the Children website.
March 21, 2011
Painterly Photographs, Historical Fiction
The line between photography and painting has been blurry for years, but rarely with such lavish results. Artist Alexia Sinclair combines lushly detailed sets and costumes with subtle photographic manipulation to create portraits of historic figures that straddle reality and fiction, just as their subjects do.
See Genghis Khan and Peter the Great as they probably never were.
March 14, 2011
Scaling the Uncanny Valley
The latest iteration of a geminoid robot — initiated by Hiroshi Ishiguro — appears to be clawing its way out of the uncanny valley. This time, he — er, it — has a Western male’s face that harbors involuntary muscular contractions. Funded in part by Denmark’s Aalborg University, this robot is going for the holy grail of realism: presence.
The realism of the Danisj Geminoid asks the questions: When does fake become real? When do robots stir up empathy? Judging from the comments, we don’t think realistic androids will be embraced soon. But the fact that the conversations focus on existential questions rather than cool factor suggests its presence is stoking passion.
Watch the geminoid in action and decide for yourself at TechCrunch.
March 08, 2011
The World's Comfiest Fortifications
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need sandbags — when they show up, it’s usually in response to something unpleasant, like a flood or a firefight. Israeli designer Ezri Tarazi blunts a bit of the sting by creating sandbags suitable for lounging. His exhibition at the Paradigma Gallery in Tel Aviv includes a couch, chaise lounge and other plush furniture that mimics piles of sandbags, both acknowledging and winking at anxieties about the war-torn country’s future.
February 28, 2011
Trailers for Fake Sequels
In 2006, Robert Blankenheim made an extended trailer for a fictional sequel to the 90s blockbuster “Titanic.” It got over 11 million views on YouTube. Last week, he re-emerged and upped the ante with “ET-X,” a faux sequel to “E.T.” Both are remarkable for the deft way they weave original movie footage together with clips from dozens of other films featuring the same actors, along with a sprinkling of original content, creating something that’s just a hair short of believable.
While each is entertaining at face value, they can also be seen as a wry commentary on the way Hollywood plunders beloved films by making them into crappy franchises — an alternate universe where “E.T.” spawns a star-studded invasion flick with vampire-fanged, flame-shooting versions of the original alien, and Titanic is followed up with a confusing action-adventure-romance with a reanimated Leonardo DiCaprio.
Watch both trailers and read a bit of background on Blankenheim’s site.
February 21, 2011
Royal Bride for a Day
British royal weddings are a unique blend of fairytale and spectacle; American artist Jennifer Rubell’s sculptural response to it is similarly multi-layered. Her interactive sculpture “Engagement,” recently unveiled at London’s Stephen Friedman Gallery, consists of a wax model of Prince William with a replica engagement ring affixed to one arm—a perfect imitation of the one he presented to Kate Middleton. Art fans and the royal-obsessed are invited to slip a finger into the ring and re-enact the official engagement photo. History as kitsch as art.
Read a description, and some of the artist’s background, at the gallery website.
(Image via website)
February 14, 2011
Following the Thread
Designer Maria Fischer’s Thoughts on Dreams collects scientific theories, ideas and insights into the world of dreaming, but that’s not what makes it remarkable. Using thread, the author underlines key words and connects them to relevant text throughout the book. The sewn-in threads act as a physical hyperlink and, according to Fischer, seek to show “the confusion and fragileness of dreams.”
See the project here
February 14, 2011
Barbie & Ken - Together Again?
After being unceremoniously dumped on Valentine’s Day in 2004, Ken has been hitting the self-improvement activities hard with the hope of winning Barbie back. Ken (powered by Mattel Inc.) has launched a social media blitz to get Barbie back and regain their place as the world’s most important doll couple.
You be the judge: is Ken suffering from doll delusion or will true (real fake) love prevail as he wins Barbie’s heart for the second time?
Vote Today: www.barbieandken.com
Follow Ken on Twitter
And if you’re in New York City or Los Angeles, enjoy a Barbie cupcake from the famous Magnolia Bakery
February 07, 2011
Here's a Fire That Can Never Burn Anything
As concerns about wildfires and air quality douse fireplaces all over the world, technology has done a poor job of filling the gap—electric heaters lack the charm, and the video fireplace of the ‘80s slipped quickly from viable alternative to rec room kitsch. GlammFire’s new Zen Fireplace takes the concept several degrees more realistic though, creating a convincing faux fire with a combination of water vapor and LEDs. Heat and smoke not included.
Watch the very convincing video on GlammFire’s Facebook page.
January 31, 2011
We See You
This shockingly real interactive retail window concept from students at Hyper Island presents digital versions of real people. Consumers become temporary puppeteers by controlling the movement of the digital folk street-side by walking by, backing up, and moving on the street. Online users can get involved by uploading custom background patterns to the retail window and being credited when their pattern is displayed.
January 24, 2011
In a curious twist on the relationship between farmers and eaters, a team of botanists in New Mexico have bred a new cross between a jalapeno and a bell pepper to facilitate easier snacking. The hybrid, called a NuMex Jalmundo, is destined to be filled with cream cheese, then battered and fried. This creates a heavier, yet milder version of the Jalapeno Popper, an appetizer popular in sports bars and chain restaurants. Selective breeding of food crops is certainly nothing new, but there’s something bizarre about redesigning an entire species to improve a single dish.
January 18, 2011
My CD Looks Like a Salami!
A preview of the new MoMA Store Spring and Summer 2011 collection features several objects designed to look like other objects. In the case of MoMA’s Watermelon Knife and Tea Bag Infuser, the objects point to their intended use. Other interpretations are more whimsical, like the salami CD and parrot corkscrew cataloged on Rob Walker’s blog—Things That Look Like Other Things.
January 10, 2011
The Real Weird World of Real Life Superheroes
Phoenix Jones fights crime on the mean streets of Seattle. With the aid of a taser, nightstick and custom rubber suit, he’s one of the Rain City Superheroes, who are themselves a highly visible part of a growing nationwide “Real Life Superhero” phenomenon. Not just fantasy, the RLSH website includes basic information on dealing with threats, first response first aid and legal issues (though photo galleries and food drives feature prominently too), encouraging anyone with the interest and daring to hit the streets as a masked vigilante.
January 04, 2011
The Aesthetics of Reuse
As repurposing and upcycling move centerward from the hippie fringe, consumers are becoming more comfortable with the aesthetics of reuse. Case in point: Restoration Hardware now offers a desk that looks for all the world like it was made out of an old wrecked aircraft wing. But while clever furniture builders have been building from scrap for years, Restoration’s “Aviator Wing Desk” is a wooden frame sheathed in an intentionally haphazard patchwork of aluminum panels. The resulting desk gains the cachet of reuse without reusing a thing.
December 21, 2010
How Real Does It Feel?
It used to be that documentaries were documentaries, and movies were movies, but 2010 has been a watershed year for blurring the line between the two. From intentionally fictionalized biographies like The Social Network to complex hoaxes like I’m Not There, the New York Times offers a fascinating review of the year in almost-true stories.
Read the article and study the Spectrum of Truthiness at NYTimes.com.
December 13, 2010
Taking Nostalgia Back to the Stone Age
The further back you look, the hazier the line between nostalgia and historical fiction becomes. For cooks who want to get really retro, designer Christine Birkhoven now offers a line of stone cutting tools, with forms so abstract that they resemble sharp-edged blobs rather than kitchen utensils. Less effective than a chef’s knife, but nothing satisfies your inner caveperson like chopping with rock.
Take a look at the whole line up, and see what extreme nostalgia looks like.
December 06, 2010
I Know You Are, Mais Ce Que Suis-Je?
Pick up some pointers on how to deal with copycats from Craig Ferguson who we think dealt rather well (and inexpensively) with a French comedian who was lifting whole segments from his show. Rather than hiring lawyers and writing ineffective international cease-and-desist letters, he hauled in the copycat, Jacques Essebag of “Tonight With Arthur,” and had him do the intro to the Late Late Show.
Compare and contrast the intros at the New York Times.
December 06, 2010
The Axes of Fashion
The urban lumberjack motif goes off the deep end. Hipsters from Brooklyn to the Bay Area have been sporting beards and plaid woolens for years now, but luxury shopping site Gilt is taking the look to a new level of accessory madness, with this fashionable axe and leather carrying sling. Perfect for a weekend of pretending you’re going to chop wood.
See what Racked has to say about it.
November 30, 2010
Potter Politics, Avatar Activism
Today’s youth are more interested in movies than causes, we often hear, but now some creative organizers are turning that fact to their advantage. The Harry Potter Alliance appeals to the movie and book series’ massive and web-savvy fanbase, raising money and awareness for causes they say reflect the Potter-verse’s ethics, including marriage equality, literacy and disaster relief. The NPR story describing the phenomenon also points out that this isn’t the first time films have been used as springboards for activism: a protest last year saw Palestinians painting themselves blue, in an effort to equate their plight to the displaced Na’vi in Avatar.
November 23, 2010
Fictional Singer Takes Tokyo Stage by Storm
Japanese pop sensation Hatsune Miku puts on a great show, but she doesn’t really exist. A combination of advanced animation, projection technology and voice synthesis has brought this anime character to real-life stages, supported by a real live band and cheered on by a real live audience. Given the massive role lighting, production and audio technology now play in the success of human pop stars, taking the human out of the equation no longer seems like such a big deal.
November 15, 2010
Treehouses Grow Up, Get Fabulous
Luxury brand Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy falls in love with Treehotel. Via its trend-spotting site Nowness comes this write up of a Swedish luxury resort that takes the concept of “treehouse” very loosely, and very literally. While each of the seven structures that constitute Treehotel is, in fact, a house in the trees, the luxury and/or kitsch factor puts them in an entirely separate category from the plank and plywood structures of rural youth.
See the slideshow on Nowness.
November 08, 2010
When Does a Fake Political Rally Turn Real?
The Daily Show has always been overt about its real fake-ness, describing itself as a source of “fake news” while delving into some very real media and political analysis. Host John Stewart’s recent Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear, however, treads an even finer line, shifting from satirical entertainment to political rally and back again, and drawing scrutiny from cultural observers and political pundits alike. The New York Times does a good job of collecting assessments of the rally in a recent Room For Debate discussion, suggesting that this ‘pseudo-event’ may prefigure a long-term shift in the way American political groups engage their supporters.
See the real debate at the New York Times.
November 01, 2010
Real Band Plays Fake Instruments, Gets Real Publicity
Musicians playing for the commuting masses on NYC’s subways is nothing new. So why did Brooklyn rockers Atomic Tom get huge recognition for doing so? Because they “played” an impromptu show using instrument simulators on their iPhones. BrandFreak’s David Kiefaber points out, “Whether it was real or staged is kind of a useless question, because either way it’s still advertising the iPhone…” Publicize your band, or publicize a brand — it’s all the same in Real Fake land.
October 29, 2010
A Real Fake Guide to Horror Films
Most holidays borrow heavily from imaginary realities, but Halloween stands out amongst the crowd. To celebrate, we look back on a quintessential trick and treat of this holiday: the horror film. From classic slasher flicks of 70s to modern day, the genre has delivered all that we love about Real Fake, and its evolution demonstrates the mainstreaming of the trend. With the release of in 1974, audiences were exposed to a style of story that was “ripped from the headlines” — told as true, but entirely fictional. The documentarian style gained mass recognition with in 1999, in 2004, and has become ubiquitous with the series of movies (2009 and 2010). Today, even haunted houses are made more “real” with professional actors and sensational special effects, further blurring the line. So, enjoy Halloween this year, and remember that the best treats of all are often just tricks.
October 25, 2010
New Movie Black Swan Borrows Old School Aesthetic
Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming film Black Swan is generating as much buzz for its graphics and clothes as for its dramatic content. Experimental fashion house Rodarte—the first ever to win a National Art Award—designed the costumes for the ballet-centered story, then extended their reach to a series of four luscious Art Deco-inspired posters, which feature prominently in Black Swan’s promotion. While nostalgic graphics for film are nothing new (see 2009’s “A Single Man”), this unique overlap between graphics, film, fashion and marketing is busting through fourth walls in an unprecedented way.
October 18, 2010
Weapons of Mass Deception
Taking a cue from consumer-focused design, the Russian military is embracing the legitimacy of fake armaments that are entirely real as a deterrent. Inflatable tanks, trunks, even radar stations are being blown up to deceive enemies while saving money. Even capable of fooling radar, these weapons of mass deception are more effective and efficient than their predecessors in every way but firepower.
October 11, 2010
Bringing Italy to New York, by Way of Vegas
Mario Batalli’s most recent gift to New York’s culinary scene defies description. Unflinchingly named Eataly, this massive temple to Italian cuisine brings together a marketplace, bakery, butcher, cheese shop and several restaurants under a “foodie funhouse” aesthetic that owes more to Sin City than The Eternal City. The quality and prices are top tier, but the environment patently artificial—not that Eataly’s well-heeled patrons seem to mind.
October 04, 2010
Healthy Snacks in a Junk Food Suit
The latest shot in an ongoing war to get kids to eat healthier involves new packaging, ads and brand identity for baby carrots. “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food” goes the slogan, and while the jury’s still out on whether it will substantially impact snacking habits, the winking references to over-the-top imagery from actual junk food advertising (carrot-shooting machine guns! rocket-powered shopping carts!) lend this effort some welcome, ironic appeal.
Enter the bizarre future of healthy snacking at BabyCarrots.
September 28, 2010
Don’t Step on the Farmhouse
Introducing Land Carpets: stunningly beautiful floor coverings that re-create landscapes of Europe, Africa and America as seen from above, in 100% New Zealand wool. Designed by an Austrian. Only available in China.
Bring some Dutch farmland into your Chinese home at Florian Pucher’s site.
September 28, 2010
How to Build a Dalek, the Official BBC Way
Among several original BBC documents recently recovered from the Doctor Who archive are some genuine 1970s blueprints showing how to build your very own Dalek. The detailed instructions describe a multi-step process that includes woodworking, fiberglass casting and a bit of wiring—a project that The Beeb says is appropriate for “a well-equipped school.” We’re just tickled to see such a venerable institution releasing “official” plans for building a real life version of a fictitious alien marauder.
September 20, 2010
Counterfeit Goods Build Value for their "Real" Luxury Counterparts
After decrying the millions they’ve lost to counterfeiters damaging their brands, luxury fashion labels now have to contend with a recent study suggesting that knockoffs are actually good for business. The EU-funded study finds that estimated losses to the luxury industry are a fraction of earlier estimates, and that increasingly well-made counterfeit goods build brand awareness among consumers who might have otherwise paid them no mind.
September 20, 2010
Dress Your Own Mulberry Doll
Just moments after the models have left the catwalk, the Guardian website is offering fans of British fashion label Mulberry the chance to print and dress a paper doll in its spring 2011 collection. The prepubescent model is depicted, like the clothes and her Pug companion, in a charmingly sketchy hand, adding yet another layer to the innocent-yet-sophisticated fantasy Mulberry is crafting.
Pair the Trippy Tiger Scarf with the Paper Bag Skirt by printing and coloring them yourself.
Thanks to Niki D. for the fabulous outfit for our doll.
September 13, 2010
Design*Sponge’s “Living In” Series
Crafty blog Design*Sponge writes shopping guides as movie reviews. The “Living In” series takes favorite movies, analyzes their aesthetic, then scours the web for objects that replicate it for the viewer/shopper. Chosen films include icons of period style (, ), blatant nostalgia-grabs (, ), and modern classics beloved by the site’s predominantly female audience (, ). But the most recent effort is extra far-out: Jim Henson’s psychedelic 80s puppet fantasy . It’s proof that real objects can take you to truly unreal places, if you know where to shop.
September 13, 2010
Pixel Art You Can (Almost) Ride
The return of the 8-bit pixel aesthetic has been on our radar for a while, but here’s something truly worthy: designer Justin Harder’s life-size version of the blocky motorcycle from Nintendo’s 1984 arcade game ExciteBike. The wooden replica isn’t rideable, and there’s no indication whether Harder is an actual motorcyclist, but neither seems to matter: the 138 images he’s posted depicting the bike’s construction (including pixelated helmet and trophy!) present a combination of fabrication skills and geek cred that is its own reward.
September 07, 2010
Highbrow Haze: Restaurants' Art Installation Makes Smoke Sculpture
A new gourmet barbecue restaurant in San Francisco plays on our sense of taste and smell by covering the ceiling with an undulating sculpture inspired by clouds of smoke. Interpretations of the abstract black fins vary, with Fast Company likening it to the Smoke Monster from Lost, and the San Francisco Chronicle seeing “the charred spine of a brontosaurus.” But there’s no denying it’s an unusually sensitive use of computer-designed laser-cutting—a technique that’s been used to kitschy effect far too often in the past.
August 30, 2010
Fossil sells watches and accessories that reference old stuff, and now they’re selling some of the old stuff too. Perhaps in an effort to empty their heavy-laden shelves of inspirational objects, the Fossil Finds section of their online shop offers a curated collection of hip antiques that may or may not tell time.
Buy an old suitcase and a new watch that matches it at Fossil Finds.
August 30, 2010
Stock Footage Video
For Brooklyn-based Ratatat’s latest video, director Carl Burgess took a decidedly original REAL FAKE approach, splicing together four squirm-inducing minutes of wordless stock footage. The overwhelming falseness of the actors’ expressions is what makes it so uncomfortable and so fantastic, and reminds us that not every alternate reality is pretty.
August 23, 2010
Hold on to the Real World
Like it or loathe it, “Inception” was the film that dominated the summer of 2010, and much of its appeal comes from the clever compounding of realities, dreamed and otherwise. Adding yet another layer, the “totem” tops that feature prominently in the film are now breaking down the fourth wall and spinning onto the pages of eBay, where canny sellers are asking upwards of $50 for them. Just another movie memento, or a chance to fuzz the line between dream life and real?
Get your grip on reality on eBay.
August 23, 2010
As Microsoft Game Studios was preparing to launch the newest installment of the Halo video game franchise, former Microsoft VP of game publishing Ed Fries was busy pushing the game back to lo-fi. While learning to program for the venerable Atari 2600, Fries created a highly pixelated version of the original Halo that plays just like an early ‘80s classic, and even comes on a cartridge with pitch-perfect period artwork.
Read more, and download the (strangely addictive) game at Engadget.
August 16, 2010
The Eloise Suite
Fashion designer Betsey Johnson has built a successful brand out of youthful exuberance, but now the fabled Plaza Hotel in New York is letting her go one step more literal, creating a space based on childhood memories. Eloise, the fictional little girl whose series of books has been capturing the hearts of American girls since the 1950s, now has a real home on the 18th floor of the Plaza, in a pink-striped Johnson-designed “Eloise suite”—for grown-ups.
Read more at CBS News.
August 16, 2010
Urban Outfitters Gets Mom 'n' Pop
Irony has served Urban Outfitters well over the years, but recent efforts to take it to the storefront might signal the limits of its appeal. After months of anticipation, the Philly-based retailer unveils its “Old New York” style facades in the relatively staid Upper West Side neighborhood. Despite grumblings that the move would be seen as kitsch or distasteful mockery, early responses are more like a shrug. Has NYC reached its irony saturation point?
Read about it at Racked.
August 09, 2010
What Would a Dutch Master Do?
In an ingenious REAL FAKE coup, artist John Baldessaris has created "In Still Life, 2001 – 2010,” an addictive iPhone/iPad app that lets users recreate a 17th century Dutch still life. A palette of items common to the genre is included, along with tips on their symbolism, so you can diagram the meaning behind your artistic arrangement.
Read more about the app and its creator.
August 09, 2010
Mid-Century Post-Modern (The New Steampunk?)
Jeffrey Stephenson takes up a challenge by Core77 to combine two things beloved by designers—spanking new technology and mid-century modern furniture—into a single working device. Behold, the first draft of a “Mad Men”-era desktop PC.
Read more at Core77.
August 02, 2010
Dita Von Teese Vamps for Cointreau
Burlesque artist Dita Von Teese has teamed up with Cointreau to create a concept club in Paris, opening this September. As directrice artistique Dita created an exclusive environment that appeals to those who long to escape to a time when burlesque had a classier appeal (if ever). You know it’s REAL FAKE when the press release states that Von Teese chose to make the club more authentic by sprinkling it with her own personal affects: " . . . bijoux, livres, carnets, accessoires."
Read the release.
August 02, 2010
Arcade Fire Goes Back to Vinyl (to Digital)
Rock band Arcade Fire debuts their 3rd album “The Suburbs” this month. In an effort to make it sound “just like vinyl,” they mastered all the tracks to a 12” lacquer and then transferred the recordings back to digital. Will consumers hear the difference, or is simply knowing they went through the process what matters?
July 26, 2010
Wieden + Kennedy Pulls Back the Towel on Isaiah Mustafa
The social media marketing coup of the year just wrapped at W+K and after several agonizing days of tight-lipped mystery, the team responsible for Old Spice’s remarkable rapid-fire video responses explains just how they got it done. When viewers fall in love with something charming but patently fake, how do you extend its appeal? By showing them it’s actually real.
Read more on the W+K blog.
July 26, 2010
The Most Interesting...Real Fake/Fake Real
Mexican brewery Dos Equis has created The Most Interesting Cargo Hunt, an interactive online game where fans assist in a search for missing cargo. In a neat reversal of Real Fake and Fake Real, a one-day real-life version of the game was hosted this month at a secret location in NYC. Luckily for the winner, the grand prize—a trip to Mexico—is the genuine article.
Read the event recap at Fast Company.
July 20, 2010
The World's Slowest Porsche
While entirely environmentally friendly, this 911 may not win any Grand Tourismo events. Austrian artist Johannes Ferdinand has created a pedal-powered vehicle in the shape of a Porsche 911, combining conspicuous consumption with green cred, while elevating humble tinfoil to new levels of artistry.
July 12, 2010
Idyllic lifestyle blog backlash
The impeccably charming worlds depicted on design and craft blogs are increasingly making people feel bad about their real lives, and Gawker Media’s Jezebel blog is getting fed up with it. When peoples’ “real lives” get tarted up to improbable prettiness for the web, what are we to think of the mess piling up on our desk, with nary a homemade scone in sight?
July 12, 2010
This little LED of mine
No, it doesn’t have quite the same ring, but possibly due to the damaging effects of smoke on churches, the Central Cathedral in Barcelona has replaced prayer candles with LED’s. Practical yes, but we wonder if plugging a coin in the slot has the same emotional appeal as lighting a sacred taper.
Read more at Next Nature.
Photo via Next Nature
July 06, 2010
Nostalgia for the Bad Old Days
Tourists can now take a tour bus through Los Angeles’s South Central neighborhood and learn about the “history and origin of high profile gang areas and the top crime scene locations.” Truly an indicator that, in a real fake world, you can capitalize on the bad just as easily as on the good.
Book your tour at L.A. Gang Tours.
Spotted by Heather Cummings, Ziba Communications Designer
July 06, 2010
Fictional Worlds for Adults (and it's not Vegas)
“The Museum of Innocence” will open this July in Çukurcuma, Turkey — a real-life counterpart to Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk’s novel. The museum will contain 83 displays of objects collected by one of the novel’s main characters, including 237 hairpins and 4,213 cigarette butts. It may not compete with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for crowds, but it definitely carries more high-culture cachet.
June 28, 2010
Over the Hedge?
Products like the brightly-colored Herbal Essences hair care line have shown consumers how ready we are to embrace a real fake take on nature. But artist Justin Shull is still puzzling us. With his motorized shrubbery vehicle, real fake goes to a new level of strange.
June 21, 2010
Fashion Brands Revisit Vintage Designs
To compete with fast fashion, a number of long-established brands are emphasizing their heritage through the relaunch of vintage models. Brands revisiting their archives include: Keds, who is issuing shoe designs from the last century; Halston, who is re-invoking their 1970s success with a heritage line; and Eddie Bauer, who brought back the B-9 parka originally worn by World War II pilots. The classics successfully evoke nostalgia, but not all are 100% true to the original design. Fits, hemlines and materials are adjusted to meet today’s consumer expectations.
The New York Times reports.
Spotted by Molly Ackerman-Brimberg, Consumer Insights Specialist
June 14, 2010
Harry Potter World
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Universal Orlando Resort’s theme park dedicated to the boy magician, is anticipated to open June 18, 2010. Like Disneyland, the Wizarding World will recreate a familiar place that never existed. The park will allow visitors to tour Hogwarts, sip Butterbeer, and buy Extendable Ears. Designers are working to authentically construct the fictional world of J.K. Rowling’s adolescent magical protagonist.
View more at Universal Orlando Resort.
Image: Universal Orlando
June 07, 2010
BLDG BLOG exposes the secrets of fake doorways and other facades in cities. Possibly playing on citizens’ desire to maintain a historically contiguous experience or an artist’s cheeky vision, these sneaky entryways add mystique and intrigue to the urban landscape.
June 01, 2010
Amsterdam, Courtesy of Google
This parody of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” video by Dutch artist Trippel X was created almost entirely with Google Street View—a neat alternative to a costly location shoot.
Watch it on Youtube.
Spotted by Chris Butler, Ziba Consumer Insights
June 01, 2010
Soft White Winter Wheat + Disodium Inosinate = Yum
Note the first ingredient listed on this box of Triscuits. Can you visualize the waving fields of grain? Kraft Foods makes a creative effort to appeal to our nostalgic ideas of food, while adhering to FDA requirements that all ingredients be listed on the box. While the language is evocative, it begs the question: what does disodium guanylate even look like?
Spotted by Reece Dano, Ziba Information Specialist
May 24, 2010
“Haul videos,” short clips in which avid shoppers review their recent purchases, enjoy growing popularity on YouTube. Some shoppers have even started to earn some extra money through this new form of marketing. But while the videos might be a fun pastime for viewers with too little money to enjoy a real shopping spree, the often unmentioned hauler “sponsoring” brings up some more serious questions for advertising ethics.
May 17, 2010
The One-Minute Watch
Who needs a watch when cell phones are so ubiquitous? For those of you who wistfully long for a simple substitute, realfakewatches has your fix. There’s a certain comfort in knowing you’re never racing against time with these patently fake accessories.
May 10, 2010
The Physical Book 2.0
Perhaps in response to the accelerating pace of text digitization, the book has been increasingly fetishized lately. Artists and designers are placing this centuries-old technology into all kinds of new contexts. One of the more meta examples: A bookshelf made of books.
May 10, 2010
White's "Sanctioned Subversion"
Vancouver snow may have melted by now, but gear and apparel inspired by the Olympic athletes are expected to influence what’s on the shelves in the coming season, especially the distressed denim looks worn by Shaun White and his fellow U.S. snowboarders. Will Gen Y consumers really embrace the high performance, pre-distressed looks?
May 03, 2010
Blue Note Remake
This promotional video for Bellavista Social Pubs (an Italian pub franchise) recreates the feel of vintage Blue Note jazz records. All scenes are shot as tableaux vivants that mimic classic Blue Note album covers. The video gives longtime fans a chance to spot favorites, and offers new fans a contemporary starting point.
Watch it on Vimeo.
Image: Bellavista Social Pubs
Spotted by Heather Cummings, Ziba Communication Designer
May 03, 2010
Real Critters Must Pose As Pokemons
Spurred by a British study that showed that children could easily characterize more than 100 Pokemon characters but could not identify half of the UK’s 100 most common plants and animals, this game uses the Pokemon trading card format to introduce kids to flora and fauna.
April 26, 2010
Fake storefronts to attract real businesses?
In town centers where empty retail spaces start to outnumber open stores, developers get creative. Empty units in North Tyneside, UK were given a smart frontage: computer-generated images of new businesses—such as a delicatessen—were put up inside. Some passers-by said they are so realistic they had not noticed the stores were not genuine.
BBC news reports.
Photo: North News & Pictures Ltd
April 26, 2010
Augmented realities and naturalistic renderings blur the borders between real life and fantasy worlds. Artist Alexa Meade explores a low-tech variety of this phenomenon. Her “reverse trompe l’oeil” painting techniques make three-dimensional real people resemble 2D works of art.
Learn more at alexameade.com
Image: Alexa Meade
Spotted by Sohrab Vossoughi, Ziba Founder
April 19, 2010
Innovation Never Dies
Forest Lawn Memorial Parks and Mortuaries is crafting the future of cemeteries. The company is developing “a new concept in internment property” called The Woodlands in the Hollywood Hills. The property features meandering landscaped paths to lend a more “organic” and “meditative” experience. While the landscaping may be artificial (some rocks will hold up to four internment urns), the setting gestures toward naturalistic realism.
Check out pricing and availability at Forest Lawn
Photo: Forest Lawn
Trend Spotted by Reece Dano, Ziba Information Specialist
April 19, 2010
Channeling Olivia Newton-John
There are plenty of examples around current real/fake (or rather, new/old) music movements like the Shoegaze Revival and New Folk. But this post is devoted to Electroclash pioneers Goldfrapp and their Xanadu look-alike, instant synth pop classic album “Headfirst.” Here is a chance for Gen Y to experience the ‘80s better than they ever were.
April 12, 2010
Luxury watchmakers have embraced iPhone apps as a new marketing platform. The phone apps showcase their products in high visual detail to a wide audience. Consumers can try on different models and colors – onscreen.
April 05, 2010
Real Gifts for Fake Girlfriends
“Nurturing” games today are no longer limited to kids. “Love Plus” for Nintendo DS is a dating simulation game hugely popular with Japanese men. In the game, they step into the shoes of a high school student who has to nurture a (PG-rated) relationship with a girl. Some gamers go even further—buying their virtual girlfriends real cakes or gifts or adding a feminine scent to their DS.
BoingBoing looks at it through the eyes of a gamer’s wife.
Spotted by Hideshi Hamaguchi, Ziba Creative Strategist
March 30, 2010
Tom Ford’s ‘A Single Man’ evokes analog film, but with high-def technology. Although the movie is sleekly stylized, it pays homage to vintage film by including grain, noise, strong contrast and other “imperfections.” Just like the good old days of cinema, but better.
Watch the trailer at A Single Man
Photo: The Weinstein Company
Spotted by Chris Butler, Ziba Consumer Insights
March 30, 2010
We're With the Band
After entering young Guitar Hero’s bedrooms (see our post on Altec Leansing’s speakers below), “real fake” amps and speakers now evoke the spirit of the summer festivals in spring window displays for brands such as Levi’s and Diane von Furstenberg (pictured). Tommy Hilfiger’s Soho windows focus more on the leisure side of the summer experience, with neon-colored kegs and bottles spread out on Astroturf.
March 22, 2010
Plastique Makes a Glamorous Comeback
Lucite, a clear plastic known for its use in the production of costume jewelry as early as 1940, has been making a comeback on this season’s runways – potentially because it’s better on the budget than fine jewelry. Once used to evoke stone or tortoiseshell, contemporary Lucite accessories flaunt their fakeness.
See it at Elle.com
Spotted by Hannah Steinberg, Ziba Consumer Insights
March 15, 2010
Tell Fake From Real
In this online memory game, the curious mind can match originals and their fakes. Examples range from classics like Disney’s fake Matterhorn and SimCity to pharmaceuticals and Big Macs. Each correct pair includes a brief musing about its potential impact. There’s even a real board game.
Try it out online: Fake For Real
March 15, 2010
One of our favorite apps takes advantage of the iPhone’s interaction possibilities to create a nostalgic “real fake” experience. “ShakeItPhoto” claims to be the “most realistic instant photo experience for the iPhone.” Users snap a photo, watch the photo develop and shake their iPhone to speed development. Will the photograph colors age? Only time will tell…
See a demo on their website: Shake it Photo
Spotted by Chris Butler, Ziba Consumer Insights
March 05, 2010
Nostalgia for Dessert
Real Fake food plays on nostalgia while adding a new twist. This example comes from Bompas & Parr, two young Brits who aim to re-establish gelatin desserts as the “pinnacle of sophistication.” London’s hosts and event organizers have embraced their quirky, eccentric works.
See more examples on their site, jellymongers
Spotted by Hannah Steinberg, Ziba Consumer Insights
February 23, 2010
As Real Fake worlds get better looking, the desire to enter them grows: after watching James Cameron’s Avatar, some moviegoers report feeling a sense of loss for Pandora, a mythical alien world. The fan forum site “Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible” has received over 1,000 posts from fans expressing their depressed and even suicidal thoughts.
Read more at CNN
February 23, 2010
Altec Lansing Fakes Stardom
Altec Lansing’s Stage-Gig speaker system is designed specifically for use with Rock Band, Guitar Hero and DJ Hero games. Shaped to look like a miniature stage wedge, the speakers help fake guitar-players feel like they’re authentically living the dream of performing live.
Find the full press release at Altec Lansing
February 23, 2010
Polaroid Enters the Gaga World
Lady Gaga demonstrates how “Real Fake” can be turned into an empire. Going one step further than Madonna before her, the pop siren is more famous for her over-the-top persona than her songs. After introducing her own line of headphones last year, she now also has a “creative partnership” with Polaroid. At CES 2010 the star announced, “[We’re] blending the iconic history of Polaroid and instant film with the digital era—and we are excited to collaborate on these ventures with the Polaroid brand.”
February 23, 2010
Harry Potter Goes to College
In an attempt to woo Gen Y, who grew up with Harry Potter, universities are now devising marketing strategies to recreate the magical education experience of Hogwarts. Offerings include intramural Quidditch leagues, themed dinner parties, and renaming dorms and libraries to align with Rowling’s imaginary world.
November 03, 2009
Cleaner Than the Past Has Ever Been
Cleaning your home certainly was not easier a hundred years ago. And yet, traditional-looking products and ingredients such as baking soda or lemon enjoy a boost in popularity. They might not provide a cleaner clean, but promise a more pure, authentic feel for the home. Paris-based packaging agency C.Capital recently redesigned home cleaning supplies for Briochen, a historic French brand. The design played up the brand’s tradition, successfully incorporating nostalgic and contemporary elements. Result: an eightfold increase in sales for the brand.
Read more at thedieline