It’s hard to imagine a better — or funnier — gift for the parents-to-be who already have everything than Safe Baby Handling Tips by David and Kelly Sopp.
This novelty picture book is basically a series of contrasting dos and don’ts with regard to taking care of an infant. For example, the correct way to "bond with baby" is to hold and coo at the baby, not attempt to engage him or her in a timed game of chess! And when you’re putting the baby down to play, put him or her in, say, a playpen, not a cage. When taking baby for a walk, put him or her in a baby backpack, not in an old potato sack.
I mean, sheesh, people — take care of the baby! Get this book.
Posted March 23, 2006 by Mariva in books, education, entertaining, entertainment, fun, gifts, home
I realize that advertising represents (and sometimes causes) many of the ills of our society, but I can’t help it — as something of a pop culture aesthete, I love me a good commercial. I think this is because I appreciate good design, clever concepts and creativity in any form. For better or worse — whether subsidizing theater companies and museums or hiring the best illustrators, writers and cinematographers — corporations have become the new patrons of the arts. I’m often astonished at how compelling the commercials for Volkswagon, Apple and Coca-Cola are.
And so, having said that, I sheepishly admit to admiring the recent Kaiser Permanent "Thrive" television commercial, which shows a montage of what modern society could look like in a utopian future:
- A man in a diner reads a newspaper with the headline "Remembering Obesity: A Look Back."
- A teenager in a museum of antiquities looks inquisitively at packs of cigarettes in display cases.
- A vending machine is filled with a variety of organic apples.
- A man pulls his car up to the drive-through window of a restaurant that serves neatly packaged "Mini-Size Me" fast food.
- An intimidating bouncer guards the velvet rope in front of a hot nightclub, above which the marquee displays "Yoga Nite."
- A young woman sits on the grand stairs of a large building, reading a book. Above the front entrance is a sign that says "Public Library," and above that is a neon sign that says "Open 24 Hours."
- An overhead view of bicyclists pans out to show a rush hour of nothing but bicycles on the freeway.
- The final scene is narrated with the slogan "Change — and the world changes with you."
One irony, of course, is that some people apparently feel that Kaiser has done the exact opposite of helping its customers "thrive." (In fairness, though, other Kaiser customers seem to have no problems — at least not yet.) Another irony is that the future may more likely look like this.
Still, though, good commercials generally do what they’re supposed to do: make me feel warm and fuzzy (or, more specifically, optimistic and connected) for thirty seconds.
« Hide it
Posted March 22, 2006 by Mariva in arts, business, entertainment, health, innovations, movies
Remember "The Future"? When our environment was supposed to have become so technologically advanced that machines would do virtually everything for us, leaving us with many hours of free time to pursue various leisure activities? It turns out that the exact opposite happened, and so we’re left with less time for accomplishing the basic tasks of maintaining our lives, let alone for leisure.
Paradoxically, those with free time often use it to cram more work into their lives, inspired by the growing Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement. (Granted, it’s work that’s taken on by choice — as opposed to the DIY work we’ll supposedly be doing after the post-peak oil crash — but still work nevertheless.)
Today’s Your Call radio program, "The New DIY", focused on this phenomenon, interviewing the editors of Make (purchase here) and ReadyMade (purchase here) magazines (both said to overlap techie and crafty interests, although Make focuses a bit more on the techie side) and addressing the practical questions of avid DIYers, which the program host referred to as a "growing community of punks, greens, anticonsumerists and Martha Stewart wannabes." The show addressed everything from the ubiquitous home improvement television shows and networks to crafts (especially knitting, which has developed an inexplicable "cool" factor among young women) to modifying high-tech electronic and mechanical devices.
The host of the show, who admitted to being less than technically savvy, successfully made the Go-Torch soda can stove. The show’s producer attempted to make "Mousey the Junkbot" — and found that while the results weren’t successful, he enjoyed focusing on the journey, not the destination, and developed a better understanding of how electronic things work.
I happen to have copies of both Make and ReadyMade on my desk, and I have to admit that I find myself a bit more fascinated with Make — not that I would actually consider making a cigar box guitar or a LEGO PC myself. But the editor’s description of Make‘s mission to help readers "liberate devices and bring functionality that was deliberately left out by the manufacturer" — or transform landfill-bound electronic appliances in novel ways, like turning a VCR into to an automatic cat feeder — seems almost revolutionary to me. Of course, some projects from the magazine and the Make Blog, like the pliers food chain or the AOL CD dodecahedron, seem ridiculous and remind me of the giant replica of the Golden Gate Bridge that some Silicon Valley programmers had constructed from empty soda cans and paper clips during the absurd excesses of the late ’90s dot-com boom.
Having said that, however, I am amused by the surprisingly numerous iPod-and-mint-case projects, which transform candy containers into a digital audio players, and vice versa. For a few examples (in order from easy to challenging), you can make an iPod Shuffle case from a Tic Tac box, an Altoids case made from old iPod Shuffle or an MP3 player out of an Altoids tin.
If this stuff intrigues you, here are some resources mentioned on the program and that I’ve found as well:
« Hide it
Posted March 21, 2006 by Mariva in arts, crafts, education, fun, gadgets, innovations, resources, social
A couple of years ago, I co-founded a major book club in my city. Because I was the facilitator, I felt it was my duty to read not only the chosen books but the study guides as well. It was like taking a literature class, without the term papers and oppressive overhead lighting.
Ah, those were the days. Now I’m in the middle of seven different books and can’t seem to finish any of them. Seriously. (I hope at least to finish Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — yes, that’s Book 5, not even Book 6! — before the movie is released.)
If you’re an avid reader — even a lapsed one, like myself — you might be inspired by the myriad book clubs and resources available online:
- Adobe eBook Mall: Compendium of online bookstores and retailers selling reading material in PDF format.
- AmazonConnect: Amazon.com’s service that enables readers to receive messages directly from their favorite authors.
- Barnes & Noble Book Club Center: Free online reading groups with authors and other readers.
- Book Club Resource: Comprehensive guide to discount book clubs and reading groups.
- BookCrossing: Free, serendipitous exchange of books “in the wild.” (BookCrossing is related to other forms of “Internet-Guided Offline Recreation” — a phrase coined by yours truly — like Geocaching and Database Rituals.)
- Booksfree.com: Online library of paperbacks and audiobooks delivered to your door.
- BooksOnline.com: Clearinghouse of book clubs, including specialty interest and niche clubs.
- Dear Reader: Serial portions of books delivered via email — an innovative yet simple way for busy people to get started on good books.
- Google Reading Groups: Large compendium of reading groups and literature lovers. (A great place to start.)
- Great Novels Wikispaces community: Anyone can participate in this wiki (collaborative online resource) for readers.
- Internet Public Library: Handy reference site put together by librarians. It includes a reading room of free books and other materials.
- Library of Congress: An important national reference site that should be on everyone’s list of bookmarks.
- MSNBC Today’s Book Club: Big-media resource for books that includes feature stories, book excerpts, interviews and individual sections for different genres.
- National Education Association’s Read Across America: National tour to inspire kids to read and — laudably — to bring books back to Gulf Coast public schools.
- NetLibrary: Partnered with many public library systems to provide library card holders with access to free digital books.
- Oprah Winfrey is credited with inspiring millions of adults to read good books in the age of information overload and media exhaustion. You can view her list of cited books and join the famous Oprah Book Club. If you’re feeling crafty, check out the nifty free Bookmark Maker.
- Page By Page Books: Free repository of public domain books in easy-to-read page format.
- Playaway: Pre-loaded, self-playing digital audio books.
- Project Gutenberg: Free repository of public domain books in plain-text format.
- Reader’s Circle: Online directory of face-to-face book clubs and reading groups, including readers’ circles (free-form groups in which people attend with whatever they’re reading, which can include books, articles, magazines and other print materials).
- Readerville: An organizational resource for readers interested in participating in lively, lofty discussions of chosen books on a schedule.
- Spaghetti Book Club: Book reviews by kids for kids.
- SparkNotes: Free study guides for literature and other academic subjects.
- Target‘s "Ready, Sit, Read!" book club for kids. (You can use this $2-off book coupon until September 8, 2006.) Target also offers Bookmarked, a book club for grownups.
If this got you thinking about books and literary resources, you can listen to an imaginative discussion on libraries of the future. (Will they be bookless community centers chock-full of digital information, accessible from anywhere?)
« Hide it
Posted March 17, 2006 by Mariva in books, community, education, innovations, resources, social
So many paper crafts, so little time. If you’re cutting paper (or even cloth!), you can — safely — get clean, straight lines with a Fiskars rotary paper trimmer (available with a 12-inch or a 24-inch cutting board), which is surprisingly affordable for quality home office/crafting equipment.
Perhaps the best part is the available assortment of rotary blades, including blades for scoring paper (for easy bending without cutting), perforation (for easy ripping along predetermined lines) and decorative edges (pinking, scallop, wave, tiara, Victorian, deckle, squiggle).
Posted March 16, 2006 by Mariva in arts, crafts, fun, gifts, innovations, resources
Sometimes the perfect thing to say has already been said by someone else. Lunch Mail has encapsulated this concept in an attractive product designed to uplift and inspire. Each Lunch Mail pack contains a set of thirty colorful business-card-size "surprise" messages. (Think fortune cookies or Cracker Jack prizes without the calories.) Created by the National Education Association, Lunch Mail was conceived as a special treat to include with children’s lunches, but I’ve seen them used for various grownup purposes, such as ice-breakers for cocktail parties, classes and business networking mixers.
Another creative company that showcases pearls of wisdom is quotable, which produces notecards, magnets, journals and other stationery products that feature memorable quotes. Especially notable by quotable (ha!) is the Truth Be Told card pack, which contains "48 calling cards to give to your friends or enemies." Personally, I could imagine handing someone "nice to meet you" or "you rock" more than, say, "enough already" or "you need a mint" — but that’s just me.
As they say, though, words are cheap, so if you’re feeling crafty, you can create your own cards and gifts from the sayings of various wordsmiths. One of my favorite inspirational quotes, featured in the movie Rushmore, is:
When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.
« Hide it
Posted March 15, 2006 by Mariva in arts, books, crafts, education, fun, gifts, innovations, social
Thank goodness Fats Domino was found alive and well after the Katrina disaster in his native New Orleans. He was found in his home in the Ninth Ward, although some say he was actually found on Blueberry Hill. Domino is 78 years old, and despite losing his home, he’s in good spirits and still making music. He’s donating the proceeds from his latest album, Alive and Kickin’, to the Tipitina’s Foundation, an organization dedicated to rebuilding the music culture of New Orleans. On NPR’s All Things Considered, Domino demonstrates the rhythmic and tempo difference between rhythm and blues and rock and roll, a shift that occurred in popular music during the ’50s.
Posted March 14, 2006 by Mariva in arts, community, entertainment, music, news
If you’ve ever read the scandalous classic Peyton Place — now in its fiftieth anniversary — or seen the movie, you’ll no doubt be fascinated by the backstory. The death of author Grace Metalious seemed similar to that of Jack Kerouac. As long as they shared that tragic ending, it’s too bad she didn’t meet up with the Beats while she was alive; perhaps their own penchant for producing salacious works may have made her feel a bit less like an outcast, or at least a total outcast.
One thing that struck me about the movie (other than the horrifying stuff, of course, which is still shocking fifty years later) was the abundance of stock footage of nature scenes inserted abruptly — yet not displeasingly, and often accompanied by voiceover narration — throughout the movie. Did the filmmakers not have a budget back then to pay a guy with a camera to romp around the woods, capturing bucolic scenes of ducks on lakes and snow-blanketed towns? Or was it more a matter of color correction?
Posted March 13, 2006 by Mariva in arts, books, entertainment, movies