TIME Social Media

Manipulate Your Own Mood, Before Facebook Does

Lauren McCarthy

But how do you mute engagement photos?

The uproar following the news that Facebook had manipulated the emotions of some of its users by curating the posts they saw in their newsfeed according to specific emotions was understandable. We like to believe that our social networks are indifferent platforms that don’t play with our feelings the way our friends can. In reality, Facebook strictly controls every factor of its website’s experience—it’s far from impartial.

So why not take control into our own hands? Artist Lauren McCarthy’s Facebook Mood Manipulator gives you access to the same technology that the study used to control its subjects emotions. A sliding scale on the website allows users to select what kinds of posts they want, with factors including positive, emotional, aggressive, and open. Turn the positive slide all the way up, and all that appears are happy posts. Turn it down, and negativity replaces all the good vibes.

McCarthy’s app suggests a kind of self-censoring. If you’re feeling down, then maybe you don’t want to see anything sad in your feed. Sure, the app performs a neat trick by scanning posts for emotive keywords and filtering them based on that vocabulary, but it also has a deeper meaning. It shows just how much our lives are contingent on what we experience online—we’re not communicating on social networks so much as living through them.

MONEY Shopping

Smart Money Advice for Rookie Gardeners

Gnomes at the Gnome Reserve, Devon, UK.
Gnomes at the Gnome Reserve, Devon, UK. MBP-one—Alamy

Before you dig in with plans for a big garden project, or an entirely new garden, consider this brutally honest advice from some experts in the field.

When the clueless aspiring gardener heads down to the local garden-supply shop or home improvement store and randomly scoops up whatever looks good, two results are likely: He’ll blow a ton of money, and not much will grow as planned. Yes, to some extent, gardening is a matter of trial and error. But completely winging it, without doing much in the way of doing research or seeking sound, practical advice from folks with experience, will be an exercise in futility—and wasteful spending.

Sources such as This Old House and Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener blog are undoubtedly trustworthy and worth exploring for recommendations and insights. I’ve also come to enjoy the advice, attitude, and outspoken and opinionated takes on gardening at Garden Rant, an independent group blog featuring the work of gardening writers around the country.

We asked a few of the Garden Ranters to name the best (and worst) ways to spend money when trying to get a garden growing. All agree that there are smart and not-so-smart ways to allocate one’s landscaping budget, and they promised not to pull punches, especially when it comes to anything they consider a total waste of money.

Best Way to Spend Your Gardening Dollars
Here are some areas where it doesn’t pay to skimp. They may not be the sexiest or most eye-catching aspects of gardening—heck, they may not even be things that a newbie gardener thinks of for half a second—but they’ll help you lay the foundation for a beautiful yard, so they’re more valuable than even the prettiest plant.

Hardscape
According to Ranter Evelyn Hadden, the overall look of the garden can be defined by the stuff that doesn’t grow at all—namely, manmade structures like paths, patios, and walls. “Put in the right hardscape,” she says, “and the garden will feel comfortable and more finished even while the plants are small. Invest a little more in artistic paving and walls that will provide winter beauty.”

Structural Plants
Susan Harris, who recently launched DCGardens.com, a resource for gardeners and garden lovers in greater Washington, D.C., stresses the importance of basics such as shrubs, trees, and groundcover. Sure, they “may not ‘pop’ with floral display, but they’re the plants that make the garden in three years or so,” says Harris. Garden Rant colleague Elizabeth Licata is on the same page concerning the importance of structural plants. “Trees and shrubs also provide important habitat for birds and beneficial insects,” she says.

Trustworthy Gardening Books
Ivette Soler, the Ranter also known as The Germinatrix, advises against solely relying on the Internet for gardening information. “Buy the classic garden books for your climate and area of interest,” she says. “Many of the resources on Internet search engines are conflicting, confusing, or just give you a tiny bite of pertinent info. Go old-school and buy books. Look for the big, heavy books brimming with horticultural knowledge, and make sure the information is applicable to the area of the U.S. where you garden.”

For people living in the West, for instance, the Sunset Western Garden Book comes heavily recommended. No matter where you live, America’s Garden Book, featuring the input of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s staff, and Hortus Third: A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada, are worthwhile classics.

Design Help
Even if you always imagined a garden as a purely DIY project, it’s wise to consult a professional landscape designer. (You can find them in your area listed here.) Using a pro to help with your overall garden design may save years of failure. “Good designers know the right places for the right plants,” says Harris. Licata points out that a designer can provide the equivalent of a handsome frame, which the artist—i.e., you—can fill with a changing palette of color and texture.

Hired Muscle
For hardscape installation and big yard cleanup jobs, don’t be a hero. Harris and Licata, among others, say that they save their backs for the fun stuff, and they never regret paying a crew of landscapers for a hard day’s work.

Worst Ways to Spend Your Gardening Dollars
Alongside your home itself, a garden can easily turn into a money pit. Stay away from the following traps that snag too many rookie gardeners.

Fancy Overpriced Plants
The kinds of books recommended above should clue you in as to what kinds of plants do well in your neck of the woods, as will a rudimentary look around at what’s flourishing in your neighbor’s yards. On the other hand, be wary of obscure and unproven plants, even if they are gorgeous in the store.

Licata cautions against the fancy hybrids of tried-and-true perennials: “Those glow-in-the-dark, double Echinacea (coneflower) may look great for one season, but they are not as hardy and reliable as the original pink varieties.” The biggest difference between the hybrids and their native forebears, she ways, is in price.

“And beware of those big, fat perennials,” adds Allen Bush, who works at wholesale producer and seller Jelitto Seeds. “They look tempting, but the smaller sizes soon catch up in size, and they’re cheaper and easier to plant, too.”

Seed Starting Kits
“If you’re not detail-oriented, save yourself some headaches and spring for the little plants,” Hadden advises. “Or start with easy seeds like sunflowers and peas that you plant directly in the ground.” Licata notes that in areas with short summers such as New England, seed-starters must emulate greenhouse conditions in order to be successful. That’s just beyond the capabilities of many home gardeners.

Commercial Pesticides and Fertilizers
Landscaping companies constantly mail out fliers to homeowners or call up out of the blue to give the sales pitch for special garden or lawn treatments. The Ranters say that homeowners should pass. “Not only are these expensive, most of the chemicals literally flow down the drain, polluting our waterways,” says Licata. “Even home applications of the store-bought potions can be expensive. And they often don’t do what they’re supposed to do.”

Instead, she suggests that gardeners make their own compost and simply spread shredded leaves as a natural mulch. An organic garden creates its own protection against pests. Weeds in an organic lawn can be tolerated under the “mow what grows” policy, says Harris. And in perennial gardens, tight planting of healthy plants make weeding minimal or nonexistent.

Mass-Produced Garden “Art”
Soler is emphatic on this. “Just say no to tchotchkes!” she declares. “Let flowers, foliage, and hummingbirds be the art in your garden, plus a few high-quality pots.”

TIME Art

Watch: Waiting Hours in Line For Marina Abramovic’s ‘512 Hours’

Marina Abramovic's latest exhibition, "512 Hours" has opened in London to queues of eager fans

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Marina Abramovic, the self styled “grandmother of performance art,” might be 67-years-old, but she shows no signs of slowing down. Her latest exhibition, 512 Hours, opened at London’s Serpentine Gallery last week to lines so long they spawned their own hashtag on Twitter.

For 8 hours a day, for 64 days – a total of 512 hours – Abramovic and her assistants will walk amongst gallery entrants, directing them to various places around the room, and encouraging them to breath, to relax and to heighten their awareness.

512 Hours is a long way from the Serbian artist’s solo performances of the 1970s. In her infamous Rhythm series, Abramovic stabbed herself, jumped into a burning star, took drugs to induce catatonia, and, most memorably, offered visitors 72 objects, including a scalpel, which they could use on her.

Over the ensuing decades her reputation continued to grow, culminating in her previous show, The Artist Is Present, at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in 2010. Visitors, among them James Franco and Lady Gaga, were invited to sit across from Abramovic and gaze at her, with many moved to tears.

The artist has attracted such a following that she has created the Abramovic method, which music icon Lady Gaga said she used to kick her marijuana habit. The method involves fasting, slowly drinking water, counting rice grains and gazing into mirrors to develop mindfulness.

Aspects of the method have clearly found their way into 512 Hours, where some visitors are invited to stare into mirrors. Abramovic has also suggested she might incorporate furniture into forthcoming performances.

512 Hours is running until August 25, entry is free and on a first-come, first-served basis.

TIME Art

Björk Retrospective Opening at MOMA Next Year

RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest - Ottawa, ON
Björk performs on Day 9 of the RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest on July 13, 2013, in Ottawa. Mark Horton—WireImage/Getty Images

The installation will chronicle her career through various genres of art

The artist Björk is getting the full star treatment at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in 2015.

The museum announced Wednesday it will be presenting a retrospective of Björk’s career drawing from over 20 years of her projects and seven full-length albums. The exhibition will follow her work in sound, film, visuals, instruments, objects, costumes and performance. Björk and Icelandic writer Sjon Sigurdsson are co-writing the narrative to accompany the installation, which will be a mix of biography and fiction.

“Björk is an extraordinarily innovative artist whose contributions to contemporary music, video, film, fashion and art have had a major impact on her generation worldwide,” said Klaus Biesenbach, chief curator at large at MOMA and director of Queens’ MOMA PS1. “This highly experimental exhibition offers visitors a direct experience of her hugely collaborative body of work.”

The museum has also acquired Björk’s music app for the album Biophilia as part of its collection.

Björk’s MOMA retrospective will be on view from March 7 through June 7, 2015.

TIME Art

Van Gogh and the Algorithm: How Math Can Save Art

NETHERLANDS VAN GOGH
In this composite photograph, a hidden portrait under the Vincent van Gogh painting ''Patch of Grass'' from 1887, is seen. Delft University of Technology/AP

With math equations that analyze brush strokes, new discoveries about the world's greatest art are possible.

It took X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and a painting algorithm to reveal the hidden portrait of a peasant underneath the painting of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Patch of Grass.” And that feat, accomplished in 2008, was just the beginning.

Art history and mathematics may seem an unlikely combination, but math techniques in image analysis is transforming the way art historians and conservationists do their work. Algorithms can be used to distinguish copies from originals, characterize and quantify the style of one artist in comparison to another, and restore cracks and fading. “What’s really important to note is that these are all non-invasive techniques,” says William Brown, chief conservator of the North Carolina Museum of Art, who gathered last week in Washington to discuss his work at a panel discussion sponsored by Duke University.

While many restoration techniques interfere with art’s chemical composition, the image analysis technique leaves art untouched. Signal processing extracts X-ray images of the art, allowing it to be viewed in enhanced or altered forms while the original remains.

“Basically, there is a mixture of sources in the artwork and we want to make sense of the mix and which elements are more present than others,” says Robert Calderbank, director of the Information Initiative at Duke. Calderbank likened the technique to the study of skin cancer, in which scientists separate different types of melatonin from within the same skin lesion.

Brown and Ingrid Daubechies, professor of mathematics at Duke, having been experimenting with the technique since 2011. The two first collaborated to characterize the style of Giotto di Bondone’s Peruzzi Altarpiece. For generations, scholars had noted that some of the faces looked much more naturalistic than others, suggesting the possibility that different artists, perhaps di Bondone’s apprentices, had painted portions of the altarpiece. By characterizing combinations, such as detail elements of brushstrokes, and using charts to visualize information and patterns, Brown and Daubechies were able to determine which panels were the ones likely painted by di Bondone, and which by his apprentices.

A restoration of another altarpiece, the Ghent Altarpiece, made it possible to distinguish once illegibly cracked calligraphy as the text of Thomas Aquinas on the Annunciation. Using an image-processing algorithm, Brown virtually removed the distortion created by the painting’s cradle resulting in an X-ray image of the art, sans cradle modification.

Daubechies is confident that the interdisciplinary work, enabled by data, can produce what neither mathematics nor art could produce independently. “We want to give you a third eye,” Daubechies said of entry of mathematics into the art world. “It’s not competitive.”

 

TIME Fine Art

Google Project Aims to Make Street Art Immortal

Google Cultural Institute is taking street art off the walls and into your computer.

From murals in Atlanta to graffiti in Tunisia, Google’s Street Art Project, which launches Tuesday, preserves and gives Internet access to more than 5,000 photographic records of otherwise impermanent artwork.

Google Cultural Institute‘s director Amit Sood says the project’s mission is to turn the world into “one huge open-air gallery for everyone to enjoy.”

“These works of art that decorate our streets do not always hang about for long, which is why we’re delighted to work with partners around the globe to help them tell a story of street art around the globe,” Sood said, referring to environmental and societal elements that threaten to destroy works of art created in public space.

Street art is at once a celebrated and reviled pastime. From humble beginnings as a vandal’s crime in New York City, street art has evolved to become globally accepted. Artists like Shepard Fairey and JR have seen their work attract attention in political campaigns and high society. However, street art can still be considered vandalism in many cases in the U.S. and around the world. This was proven in last year’s destruction of the iconic 5 Pointz in Queens. The street art initiative by Google provides a safe haven for these masterfully creative works.

One of the most important features is that the images are shown in their natural habitat, so the viewer can truly understand the space the art creates (quite an improvement over putting a Banksy piece in an auction). Not only does Google’s street art project preserve street art for time immemorial, but it provides a window into another world of art spanning the entire globe.

TIME society

Here’s What Faces Would Look Like If They Were Perfectly Symmetrical

Are they more beautiful?

There’s a biological assumption that symmetrical faces are intrinsically more beautiful than ones with uneven features. Artist Alex John Beck decided to explore—and dispel—that myth.

Both Sides Of is a photography project that juxtaposes side-by-side portraits of models whose faces have been photoshopped to be mirror images of the left and right sides of their faces. The result was somewhat eerie.

“I think they lack character— beauty is more based on character than an arbitrary data point,” Beck says. “Humanity is messy and should remain as such. I, for one, am not a fan of center-parting, for example. And even the greatest tennis players favor one arm.”

Alex John Beck

While Beck illustrated the mirroring of the left side of the face in the photo on the left side, and the mirroring of the right side of the middle axis on the right, he wasn’t compelled to show the original photo. “I just didn’t want people referring back and forth from the original the whole time,” he says. “After all, the original is just a boring portrait.”

Alex John Beck

Although if desperate, there is a trick: “If you want to see the real face, you can just print it out and fold the paper.”

Alex John Beck

Since Beck works with models, some portraits showed very little change when it switched from left to right-sided symmetry.

Alex John Beck

But there were some distinct differences that surprised Beck.

Alex John Beck

The eyes.

“You can just see that the competent character that we made for the right side of the face is a little more present than the one on their left side,” Beck says. “You can see it in the intensity of their vision.”

Alex John Beck

Beck used the photo above as an example. “[He] looks completely identical, but the left eye confident is just a little more vacant, and there’s something very, very strange about that,” Beck says. “One side is completely present and alert and getting ready and interested, and the other side is half asleep.”

Alex John Beck

Some portraits turned out better than others.

“After a few rounds of portraits I was introduced to several people who had suffered slight or severe disfigurements resulting in facial asymmetry,” Beck says.

Alex John Beck

“In the specific case of the cross-eyed man, he is a dear friend and has generously been the subject of several experiments over the years,” Beck says. “I’ve sworn to him that the next one will be more flattering. It won’t.”

Alex John Beck

Beck’s models had a wide range of reaction to the portraits, from fascination to horror. “One person I had to take down,” he says.

But Beck understands the trepidation to accept the unexplored characteristics of your face.

“Someone asked if I ever did one of myself, and I answered ‘Yes,'” he says. “Is it out there? No. I’m not going to show it, and I don’t want to think about it. It’s depressing to even remember it.”

TIME technology

This Interactive App Lets You Play With the Words of Classic Books 

It brings word games to a whole new level

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Israeli designer Ariel Malka has created an entirely new way to read books: by untangling them. Malka’s app, He Liked Thick Word Soup, turns the text of classic books like Ulysses into strands of sentences that have to be reassembled as the reader makes their way through the novel.

The game “forces you to read with your fingers,” as the new media blog Creative Applications notes. To play, straighten out each sentence and match sections of it to the words that appear at the top of the screen. It necessitates a different kind of attention than just scrolling through an article or flipping a page—a kind of attentiveness that’s very useful when reading something like Ulysses, James Joyce’s intricate, dense book that appears in the app’s video.

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