Amazed by MS Paint art, unimpressed by David Blaine in this week’s staff picks

Staff Picks 7/27

jennifer-bergenJen Bergen: Never stop creating

The story of Hal Lasko is not only one that’ll pull at your heartstrings but will also make you wish you’re as awesome as this man when you’re 97 years old. Lasko, mostly known as Grandpa, has been using Microsoft Paint from good ‘ol Windows 95 to create art. Legally blind and suffering from macular degeneration, which results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field, Lasko chose MS Paint as his medium since he can zoom way into sections of the piece. Working pixel by pixel, his art takes time, but in the short documentary below, Lasko says if it takes him two years to finish one, that’s fine, because he has a lot of patience. Lasko comes up with the idea for what he wants to paint first in his head, and then starts at it section by section, resulting in an 8-bit-esque work of art. His family set up a website for Lasko, which shows all of his prints (also available to buy). Do us a favor, take 8 minutes of your life and watch the video below. You’ll feel better after you do.

Les ShuLes: Surfing the friendly skies

While it isn’t as ubiquitous as we’d like, more and more airlines have outfitted their fleets with onboard Wi-Fi, allowing us to check in on our Outlook work e-mails (sigh). On land, Wi-Fi connections are usually fast, but in the air they’re as pokey as your old Pentium II’s 56k modem. That’s because existing in-flight Wi-Fi technology relies on communication with 3G cell towers on the ground, so don’t expect to stream YouTube videos or download apps while you’re 35,000 feet in the air.

But things are on the up, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Singapore Airlines, which arguably is the world’s most badass airline in rolling out great service and features across the board, will introduce the next-generation of its entertainment system on new Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A350s entering its fleet. The system is Panasonic Avionics’ new eX3, which allows for faster, broadband-grade Wi-Fi that will also support GSM cellular connections, so you can send and receive text messages on your phone. Because these new systems utilize satellites instead of ground infrastructure, you stay connected regardless of the country or ocean you’re flying over, as long there’s satellite coverage. Besides an 11.1-inch LCD in economy class (the rich up front get much larger displays, natch), the entertainment system has USB, iPod, and power ports (first and biz get HDMI-in, too).

Singapore isn’t the only airline to upgrade its onboard Wi-Fi. Germany’s Lufthansa has already rolled out its FlyNet service on its Airbus A380s and Boeing 747-8s, using similar tech from Panasonic Avionics. (Lufthansa was one of the first to offer intercontinental Wi-Fi via Boeing’s Connexion service until Boeing shut it down.) Stateside, United Airlines is installing satellite-based Wi-Fi throughout its fleet, starting with Airbus A319/320s and Boeing 747-400s. In the smaller Airbus planes, United will use the Wi-Fi to offer on-demand streaming of content to passengers’ mobile devices, allowing the airline to cut costs by not having to install entertainment systems.

KrisWorld, Singapore Airlines' inflight entertainment system

Andrew CoutsAndrew Couts: Magic is cool

You know, I’ve never really cared much for magicians. It’s not that their skills of deception aren’t impressive. I just can’t relate to them in any way. Like, what compels a person to decide that tricking people is the absolute best way to spend their entire life? The potential fame and fortune that comes to the cream of the magician crop surely plays its part. And hey, maybe it’s just fun – certainly better than sitting behind a desk shuffling papers and emails for a living. I get it. Still, there’s just something in their smug faces while performing their slights of hand that rubs me the wrong way. So when I saw this video (below), in which David Blaine attempts to blow the mind of a random kid, I couldn’t help but laugh. The kid’s reaction to Blaine’s trick is, well, it’s just perfect.

bill-robersonBill Roberson: Look up

When not piloting close-to-the-ground automotive missiles, I’m a bit of a sky and astronomy nut, so this video from the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco, California caught my attention. It shows what the sky looked like above the museum in time lapse, and not for just one day, but for a whole year, and it shows each day separately, and all at once. Give it a look and you’ll understand. Music is by Moby, video by Ken Murphy.

While the video can overwhelm at bit a thirst, once you get the gist of it, it’s interesting to spot the cycles of weather, seasons, and changing sunrise and sunset times. It’s a bit hard to make out in a small window but take it full screen, and it’s quite amazing to behold (and imagine seeing it here). Also, the NASA site hosting the video, Astronomy Picture of the Day, is a nearly bottomless well of amazing photos and video of the world around us and the heavens above us.

ryan-fleming-6-94x94Ryan Fleming: Neil Gaiman tries out video games

Neil Gaiman needs your money, and you should give it to him right now! Gaiman is teaming up with Game developers The Odd Gentlemen to create the video game Wayward Manor. You can throw money at them here.

If you aren’t familiar with Gaiman’s work, you should stop whatever you are doing and rectify that. Start with his brilliant Sandman, a series that helped change the way people looked at comics. Once you are done with that and your mind is suitably blown, check out his novels, including the best-selling American Gods and his award-winning children’s book The Graveyard Book.

OK, now that you are one of the cool kids, feel free to squee a little bit over the news that he is helping to create a video game. Wayward Mansion is based on an original story from Gaiman, and it puts you in the shoes of a ghostly dead man living in a house occupied by a bunch of meat bags. Your job is to use your wits to scare them out.

The development is being handled via crowd-funding, and like most projects that take that route, there are tiers of rewards based on the amount you give. The game itself is just $10, but the more you give the better your reward. In fact, I would appreciate it if someone could loan me $10,000 so I can have dinner with Gaiman. And then we’ll hang out, and he’ll read all my writing and love it, and we’ll go to movies and stuff, and we’ll be BEST FRIENDS FOREVER.

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