Archive for the ‘Websites’ Category

Finally! The board game guide to escaping fundamentalism

March 9, 2015

map onlyI hope you love somewhat fake maps as much as I do.

I’m thrilled to introduce A Field Guide to Losing Your Religion … but Not Your Soul. It’s the 20-step plan you’ve been waiting for.

The topography of an un-conversion is wild, and I’m here to guide you through it. (With Dante! And Dickinson! And marshmallows! And Korean taco trucks!)

Completion may take several years, so why not start today?

Or, I’d love to see you over on my new site, which is

Remain on high alert for visionary impulses

January 31, 2010

Four ways to stay inspired, even at the end of January.

William Blake's visions await ...

Navigating the post-holiday, pre-Valentine waters of late January can be tricky. But the solution is quite simple, as it turns out: Just remember how many options you have for staying amused, engaged, inspired and otherwise satisfied.

1. Find visionaries at the push of a button.
As if it weren’t gratifying enough that we can now learn astrophysics whenever we please, as of this month, we can peruse – or even just glance at – William Blake’s notebook on the British Library’s website.

Think of it: the notebook he actually used for 30 years at our fingertips. How amazing is it that so much scholarship is so accessible these days? No one will judge you for feeling breathless.

2. Engage in some artful commerce.
Take your art with you throughout the day instead of leaving it at home on the wall. What have those walls done for you lately anyway?

Hewitt’s darlings

3. When confronted, make no excuse for watching cute animals.
The opportunity for a moment that warms your heart is never farther away than the nearest internet tube. Are there too many animal videos? Yes? Are most of them worth the effort? No. Don’t argue. Don’t discuss with friends. Just watch one now and then, especially if it’s a Japanese commercial with a cat on a business trip or a New York lottery commercial for cuddly animals sleeping or enjoying carnival rides.

4. Let the sandwich be your canvas.
Seriously, have you invented a good sandwich lately? Why, just the other day I mixed mayonnaise with crumbled goat cheese and quite enjoyed the results. Imagine what you could do this time of year if you kept a jar of chutney handy.

The portable art
SFMOMA artist T-shirts, $24.50
Catalina Estrada bowl, $16
Catalina Estrada gel skins, prices vary
Fiona Hewitt small bag, $6.50
Mayonnaise, prices also vary

Get high on charm

October 27, 2009

James Nestor, illustrating the highest of writing techniques

Using brain science, not drugs, to create highs of mystical proportions.

All the recent, fascinating research about the brain changes that meditation creates is alluring. Knowing that you can actually alter your brain state gives off rays of hope in all kinds of directions. This kind of change is at the heart of the Charm-o-Matic, after all.

Those of us who don’t spend hours sitting cross-legged in a cave every day can head to Get High Now for a mental break instead. The web site offers visual and audio illusions – including the much ballyhooed binaural beats – and explanations of the science behind them.

ReadyMade magazine recently interviewed Get High Now author James Nestor, who notes that “altered states of consciousness have been at the core of almost every culture (but modern Western culture) since pre-history.” Ever the skeptic, Nestor identifies these delights as “mystical crap” that we’ve replaced with working long hours and watching television.

“I know, this sounds flaky and super-cosmic,” he continues. “Trust me, I’m a skeptic. I don’t wear patchouli. I’ve done yoga three times in my life. But, brothers and sisters, all this tis true!”

You can read more of the ReadyMade interview or head right over and let the trippy brain science commence. Experiment with finding your brain’s charm center.

Get High Now online, Free
Get High Now book, $14.95

Not for the birds, but from them

September 14, 2009

A Paulo Pinto photo became a tune

A Paulo Pinto photo became a tune.

A glimpse of birds sitting on a wire turns into a musical composition.

You can file this video under the category of “proof that the lens through which we view our world creates amazing effects.” As he was reading the newspaper one day, a Brazilian musician named Jarbas Angelli saw a photo of a flock of birds sitting on electrical wires. Intrigued by the way the birds seemed to be lined up on the wire like musical notes on a score, he decided to investigate further.

Sure, we’ve likely all stared in wonder at birds perched on those wires, and we’ve likely all seen photos in the newspaper that sparked our interest. But Angelli didn’t just observe. He put his particular view of those birds into motion.

Angelli clipped out the photo and got busy translating the tableaux into music, plotting out notes based on the birds’ positions. Taking his work full circle, he contacted the photographer at the paper. And just like that: Cue music for the next Internet sensation.

So I wonder, what is your particular view of the universe showing you today?

Birds on the Wires video

Insert charm here: significant objects

August 28, 2009
Buying into meaning at Significant Objects

Buying into meaning: Significant Objects

Where mugs, vases and figurines go to become objects of literary fancy.

For more proof that if something lacks meaning, significance is only a story away, observe the consumerist-literary hybrid that is Significant Objects. The clever site run by writers Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker has gained lots of attention lately and deserves every inch of love – commodified and otherwise –  pouring its way.

How it works: A writer creates a story about an object that one of the founders has bought at a thrift store or garage sale. (Any unicorn figurine or meat thermometer will do.) The site ups the ante by not only unveiling the stories but also putting the objects themselves up for sale on eBay.

Or, as the founders explain on their site: “A talented, creative writer invents a story about an object. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should – according to our hypothesis – acquire not merely subjective but objective value. How to test our theory? Via eBay!”

Stories are written; money is exchanged. Objects are elevated; lives are enhanced … theoretically.

Say what you will about our materialistic 21st-century search for meaning, but this grand experiment is more interesting than any textbook theories on the subject. Say what you will about clutter, but the desire for a pristine counter is no match for our need to connect with something, anything that means something, anything.

And what exactly ends up being real in the end just makes the experience with the site all the more interesting.

The concept definitely fits into one of the grooves on the Charm-o-Matic machinery – looking carefully at what surrounds us and finding something good. Or at least something to write home about.

Significant Objects experiment
Objects @ eBay Store, Prices vary

Stick it to the poetry man

May 11, 2009

Enjoying poetry after April makes the mustard sandwich all the more poignant.

PBS shows poetry some love

PBS shows poetry some love.

Now that all the excitement from National Poetry Month has died down (oh, you didn’t feel that?), I’m going back to a couple of online favorites. You can get a quick hit of that ineffable poetry-i-ness on the PBS site by hearing poets read their work. Try The Lanyard by Billy Collins for starters or The Gate by Marie Howe. These two aren’t frequently decoded and deconstructed by Ph.D. students, but they are admired by academics nonetheless. Their work is free of pretension and finds mystery in ordinary objects such as a lanyard or a cheese and mustard sandwich.

Of course, if you don’t go for new-fangled audio and video, you can find plenty of tidily organized written words on You can even use their U.S. poetry map to get proud about your home state.

Or you could just wait until next April when National Poetry Month rolls around again, but then you’re going to feel like not reading poetry just to spite the calendar. You’re such a rebel.

Mighty nice operation

March 18, 2009
Taking the world by nice.

Taking the world by nice.

When nice is more than just fine.

You know what’s nice? Being nice – that’s what’s nice. Not wimpy nice. Not namby-pamby nice. Consciously nice. Determinedly nice. Or as the Niceness Pro at Operation Nice puts it: “proactively nice.” We’re not talking about the kind of nice that stems from feeling obligated or from not standing up for yourself. We’re talking about the kind of nice that benefits everyone. It’s a win-win, I tell you.

I loved this site the first time I laid eyes on it a few months ago, and founder Melissa Morris Ivone is following up beautifully on her mission to make the world a nicer place. Her site is full of downloads, challenges, testimonials, tips and other niceties.

At its best, a commitment to being nice is about more than holding a door here and there or gracing the world with your smile when it occurs to you. When the amazing story of Jill Bolte Taylor started circulating, one of things she said that stood out to me is that we need to be responsible for the energy we’re putting out into the world. Lying in her hospital bed after suffering a stroke, the brain researcher was unable to communicate; however, she picked up on the energy of the various doctors and nurses who came in and out of her room. Some people made her feel cared for in her vulnerable condition, and some made her feel utterly insignificant.

We do this to the people around us every day. By taking responsibility for the kind of energy we’re transmitting, we improve the environment around us. That includes the other people within reach of our mysterious energetic vibes, and it includes our own state of mind, too. See, I told you it was a win-win.

Making Operation Nice a regular online stop will give you all sorts of gentle reminders to be nice on purpose. That’s the kind of nice that gets the Charm-o-Matic whirring.

More face time for Jane Austen

February 12, 2009

Deciding whether to fend off or embrace Facebook and zombies, Jane Austen shows once again that she really is just like us.


This online gem has been gaining fame the last few weeks: It’s Jane Austen meets Facebook. And oh my, it’s charming, as long as you remember a few plot and character details from Pride and Prejudice. Some of my favorite updates:

  • “Lydia Bennet became a fan of Officers.”
  • “Kitty Bennet became a fan of Officers.”
  • “Charles Bingley created an event: Ball at Netherfield.”
  • “Kitty Bennet can’t stop coughing!!!”

Once the topic of Jane Austen comes up, I find I rarely can contain myself. Did you know, for example, about the upcoming Jane Austen zombie book? As the Quirk Books site explains, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen’s beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action.” Please understand that the Charm-o-Matic rarely condones of any kind of brain eating or other crimes perpetrated by the undead, but every person of discretion knows to make occasional allowances.

Austen anticipating zombies?

Austen anticipating zombies?

Also by the same publisher is the delightful Jane Austen Handbook, a guide for those who long for a little Regency-era England in their everyday lives. And they’re not new, but I certainly hope you’ve been made aware by now of the Jane Austen puppet and action figure.

A sci-fi Austen-themed miniseries (Lost in Austen) debuted a few weeks ago on the Ovation network, but alas, my cable provider does not offer such gentle pursuits.

Oh, and Jane is podcasting, too. Actually Masterpiece asked life coach Cheryl Richardson to offer her take on what we can learn from Sense and Sensibility through a free, two-part podcast that you find by typing in Cheryl Richardson or Masterpiece on iTunes.

Now then, after this necessary discourse and before presenting you with more succinct linkage to the worthy endeavors I have put before you, I shall proceed to inform you that I look forward to attending an exceedingly good ball within a fortnight. Actually, my only certain plans within a fortnight include attending a hockey game. I dare say it will make a very pleasant evening, nonetheless (and ties in with the aforementioned bone-crushing in a most unexpected way). In the meantime, I trust you have found these niceties agreeable. I have every disposition in the world to join you again soon.

I am very much flattered by your attention, and I am ever yours,

Jane Austen meets Facebook, free site
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, pre-order for $7.77
Jane Austen Handbook, $11.53
Jane Austen puppet, $5.95
Jane Austen action figure, $8.95

Soft lips, full pocketbook

February 3, 2009

Just a spoonful of sugar helps your chapped lips go down, thanks to a budget-friendly DIY exfoliator.

Lip-smacking assemby line

My lip-smacking assembly line

Winter is taking a toll on my skin this year, but I’m pleased as sugary citrus punch to have found a solution for my lips that only cost me pennies. I’ve read this year that the secret to soft lips is exfoliating, and I decided it must be true a couple of weeks ago after several days of incessant lip balm applications were to no avail.

Then I ran across this post on Bella Sugar with instructions to make your own lip exfoliator. My personal talents usually don’t extend to the DIY realm, but this effort consists of simple ingredient assembly. I’d say my pet monkey could do it, but I think we all know I don’t have a pet monkey.

Just mix together a teaspoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of honey, two teaspoons of white granulated sugar and a dash of lemon juice. I didn’t have any lemons, so I settled for a lime. I also didn’t actually bother to measure anything. Then rub some onto your lips and sweep back and forth.

Before finding that idea, I’d had my eye on this prettily packaged tube of buffing beads from Benefit, which is one of the exfoliators recommended by the Law & Order: Beauty woman (aka “cosmetics cop”) Paula Begoun. (No, there isn’t really a Law & Order: Beauty edition … I’m just delirious from all the sugar on my lips.) The lip balm & exfoliator duo is cute, but I also had my eye on my budget, and I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on $32.

So read my lips and pull from your cupboards instead. The result is sweet, cheap and effective.

Lipscription, $32
DIY recipe, free

(I also found instructions for DIY lip balm, but that’s way out of my league.)

A tree on every wrist

January 29, 2009


Holly Hawk's leather designs on Etsy

Make like a tree a leave a cuff on your wrist.

Now that I’ve gone public with my love of trees, I’m declaring these leather cuff bracelets by *hollyhawk* to be the next best thing to taking a walk in the woods.

I don’t remember how I found Holly’s designs on Etsy a while back, but my wrist has been happier ever since I did. Her leather bracelets are one part sophistication and one part rock-n-roll. Also one part delicate and one part bold. And three parts nature.

The bracelets look cool, but my theory is that wearing one can also serve as a three-second meditation every time it catches your eye. Spending time in nature is more soothing and inspiring than anything else on the planet for some of us, but the great outdoors isn’t always accessible – or feasible, given our crazy schedules. So sometimes a little replica just has to do.

Here’s to incorporating trees into our wardrobes and supporting independent artists, too.

Tree silhouette leather cuff, $22