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Link About It: This Week's Picks

A Ken Burns iPad app, touchscreen subway maps, swapping sexism and more in our weekly look at the web

by CH Editors in Link About It on 15 February 2014

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1. The Office Meets International Development

The mockumentary genre continues to be a major force in both TV and movies around the world, and now Kenya is getting its first comedy-doc series, tacking issues that are both local and international. As one of the major hubs for international development, there are over 4,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) registered in Kenya who work across a wide variety of fields. Aptly titled, The Samaritans follows the ups and downs of working in an NGO—and all of the bureaucratic inefficiencies that go with it. In this case, the made-up NGO in the series is called Aid for Aid, which essentially does nothing—a tongue-in-cheek take on the seemingly altruistic field from a Kenyan perspective make this a series to pay attention to.

2. Regenerative Candles

Designer Benjamin Shine's clever candleholder allows melting wax to be deposited into an acrylic tube, where it cools and reforms into a slightly smaller version of its original self (some wax is unavoidably lost during the burning process). The Rekindle is not only a piece of wax-saving decor, the clever design could prove invaluable during prolonged electricity outages or in underdeveloped areas.

3. Capturing the Essence of Film in Print

Aiming for cinematic scope and scale, Stockholm- and NYC-based Dogme Magazine brings a brilliant new creative lens to covering the moving image. Founded by Libraryman creator Tony Cederteg, the publication will translate the silver screen grandeur through an exploration of those in and outside of the film industry. Published "irregularly," the new print publication all but guarantees to be photographically superb and filled with well told behind-the-scenes stories.

4. Touchscreen Subway Maps

Anyone who has ridden NYC's subway system knows it's a remarkable example of engineering and transport, if not for the sheer volume of daily riders. You'll also know that delays are frequent and service outages are just as common (weekends on the G train anyone?). Still, the city is aiming to improve user experience with the newly released touchscreen maps, which hit Grand Central Station this week. Users are given up-to-the-minute updates on underground closures, delays and directions. Though aimed largely at tourists who are unfamiliar with the system, regular riders will also benefit when traveling off their beaten path or in the (likely) event of alternative service routes.

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5. Jonathan Corum: For Your Information

Gestalten digs into the work of the NY Times' Science Graphics Editor, Jonathan Corum, who outlines his process for creating the newspaper's highly regarded interactive graphics. Corum explains his main mission is to seamlessly integrate words with art, and to translate very detailed data into a medium that can be easily understood by all. Whether referred to as data visualization or infographics, the core of Corum's work is actually just lucid storytelling.

6. Richard Hamilton's Braun Admiration

The late British artist and Pop Art pioneer Richard Hamilton is currently the subject of a major retrospective at London's Tate Modern. Surprisingly, as Phaidon points out, Hamilton's interest in the ready-made was keenly focused on all things Braun, among other consumer objects. The former electrical apprentice even wrote the text for a Berlin exhibition on Braun in 1980, in which he explained, "My admiration for [Dieter Rams' work] is intense and I have for years been uniquely attracted towards his design sensibility." The gamut of Hamilton's varied cultural interests and artistic prowess can now be seen at the Tate Modern through 26 May 2014.

7. Sensory Fiction: A Wired Reading Experience

Reading a powerful book is sure to elicit an emotional, if not a physical reaction—a quickened pulse at suspenseful moments, a chill down your back. However a new project from students at MIT takes the experience to the next level. The aptly dubbed Sensory Fiction uses inexpensive technology combined with neuroscience to create a wired reading experience that allows the reader to share in the characters' feelings. A microprocessor senses what page the reader is on, setting off a different set of sensations including temperature changes, vibration and a vest that swells and compresses—giving new meaning science fiction.

8. Reaching Peaks Without Ropes

The word "epic" gets thrown around a lot these days, but occasionally it's completely fitting—like in the case of this beautiful video of Alex Honnold making climbing history on the 2,500 El Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path) in El Potrero Chico, Mexico. A difficult route in its own right, what makes Honnold's climb really stand out is his lack of ropes, harnesses or any kind of safety net; one slip or crumbling hold and it would all be over. While the feat alone is visually stunning, the video explores the larger consequences of Honnold's climb through the perspective of his friends, giving the video a more cerebral context rather than a stuntman feel.

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9. Butchering Teddy Bears

With an impressively jarring exhibition at Galerie xpon-art in Hamburg, Germany, artist Miroslav Menschenkind deconstructs and destroys Teletubbies and teddy bears. From slaughtering house scenes with teddy carcasses hung on hooks, to shredding machines with stuffed animal innards, it makes quite an impact. There's a little humor but a lot of death to childhood dreams in the show, which runs through 2 March 2014.

10. Worldwide-3 Space Telescope

The same company responsible for the hardware behind Google Maps and Google Earth images, Ball Aerospace, will soon launch a new space telescope capable of seeing objects on Earth's surface as small as 10 inches across, though those without government clearance will only have access to images at half that resolution. Traveling at roughly 18,000 miles per hour, the giant telescope, dubbed Worldwide-3, can even see things in the infrared spectrum and will eschew snapshots in favor of a continuous ribbon-like image of the world below, which is will traverse in its entirety every few days.

11. Ken Burns 2.0

As Wired configures, to watch all of history buff and award-winning documentarian Ken Burns' films would take 136 hours or 5.5 straight days. But thanks to modern technology and the creative team at digital agency Big Spaceship, Burns' perpetually relevant records are taking new form in a Ken Burns iPad app, which not only allows people to experience his work in new digital form, but also chops up the footage by year instead of subject for a more well-rounded understanding of that particular time.

12. Scientific Munchies

Even casual tokers know the drill: puff, puff, pass—the Doritos. As marijuana becomes even more mainstream, an interest in understanding all of its side effects is increasing too, and the latest to undergo a scientific investigation is pot's curious ability to make users insatiably hungry. Researchers at French agency INSERM have worked with genetically modified mice to play around with CB1 receptors in nerve cells, which they've found directly stimulate the olfactory senses when activated, and in turn, increase hunger.

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13. Oldest Known Star Identified

Formed 13.6 billion years ago, a star now considered to be the oldest known to date was discovered by a team of Australian astronomers led by Dr. Stefan Keller. Its age was figured out by studying its iron content; Keller says, "The telltale sign that the star is so ancient is the complete absence of any detectable level of iron in the spectrum of light emerging from the star." Formed from an even older, exploded star, this one is said to be part of the "second generation" in the Milky Way, residing relatively close (6,000 light years away) to Earth.

14. Swapping Sexism

As eye-opening as it is entertaining, the 10-minute short film "Oppressed Majority" by French filmmaker Eleonore Pourriat places a man at the center of the every day aggression most women undergo. The role reversal provides plenty of laughs, but more importantly packs a thoughtful punch. There's no better way to learn about a day in the life of a woman than by opening the world up with a different set of eyes. And Pourriat gets it just right.

15. Follow Kerouac's Tiretracks

The literary masterpiece "On the Road" inspired an entire generation onward—not that many people seek to follow the tricky turn-by-turn trek Jack Kerouac's main character Sal Paradise took across the States. Now, thanks to German student Gregor Weichbrodt, there's a 45-page e-book with the specifics on how to do it. Weichbrodt achieved this feat simply by writing a little bit of code, which plugged all the coordinates into Google Maps. Remarkably, he isn't even a Kerouac fan.

16. Stool Stools

Using a homemade machine, Edinburgh College of Art student Peter Trimble has created a way to mass manufacture biodegradable furniture using just three organic ingredients—sand, urine and naturally occurring bacteria. With the bacteria acting as glue, the sand hardens over the course of two days to form a concrete-like state capable of supporting 91 kilograms, in the case of the stool. Future applications could see the material introduced to sub-Saharan Africa where resources are limited but sand plentiful.

Link About It is our filtered look at the web, shared daily on Twitter and published weekly every Saturday morning.

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