Dec. 5 2012 12:56 PM

Apps, books, albums and TV shows: Squeeze these scraps of substance into your skull




Last August, comedian Tig Notaro took the stage at Los Angeles' Largo nightclub and introduced herself: "Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you? Is everybody having a good time?" Notaro—known for her deadpan delivery and absurdist humor (she has a whole bit on babies taking showers)— released Live last month, featuring her now-legendary set at Largo, recorded just days after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It's difficult to listen as she tries to make light of the tragedy ("the doctor said, ‘You have a lump,' and I said, ‘I know. That's my breast'"), and, at times, you'll feel repulsed by yourself for laughing. But Live is the perfect example of stand-up comedy's rare power of leading us into darkness by the hand instead of shoving us there. And there's a happy ending: After a double mastectomy, Notaro has announced she's cancer-free. The attention has also given her a wider and well-deserved audience, so now more people can appreciate her brilliant story about bees passing her on Interstate 405.

—Ryan Bradford



Anybody with an interest in revolution, war or the Third World would be wise to read the books of Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski. Before his death in 2007, the pioneering Polish journalist covered numerous wars and revolutions in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, diving headfirst into dangerous environments and writing with a vivid, lyrical verve. However, there's something you should know: Dude also made some stuff up. Kapu?ci?ski's embellishments are documented in painstaking detail in Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski: A Life, a crucial and controversial biography by Polish journalist Artur Domoslawski, which was recently published in an English translation. Granted, Domoslawski isn't nearly as powerful a writer as his subject, and he can sometimes be unnecessarily nitpicky. But Domoslawski's account— spanning Kapu?ci?ski upbringing, experiences as a member of the Communist Party and swashbuckling adventures overseas—offers an illuminating look at the writer and raises interesting, important questions about his legacy. Still, first-time Kapu?ci?ski readers are best off starting with classics like The Emperor and The Soccer War.

—Peter Holslin



To truly appreciate jazz, they say, you have to start from the beginning. For Blue Note Records, that means The First Day, fea- turing piano players Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. Producer Alfred Lion was so impressed by the duo's performance that he started Blue Note in 1939 to release their music. The record is the first in the timeline that's part of the Blue Note app, available, for now, via Spotify or for download to iPads. Use the app to scroll through Blue Note's 70-plus-year catalog (checking out the album covers alone is a good time). If you're in need of a jazz-appreciation lesson, try the Blue Note 101 feature, which highlights iconic artists who've defined the genre. You can filter albums by instrument (not much happening with the cowbell) and year recorded, but the coolest feature is "Blue Break Beats," which lists songs that include samples from Blue Note recordings—like A Tribe Called Quest's "Can I Kick It?" or Ice Cube's "Ghetto Bird"—and allows you to listen to the sample's origin song, too.

—Kelly Davis



On Nov. 5, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society embarked on "Operation Zero Tolerance," the eco-activist group's ninth campaign to disrupt Japan's whaling operations in the Southern Ocean. I'm no vegan, cetacean-cuddler, but I'm still obsessed with Animal Planet's Whale Wars, the reality show that follows Capt. Paul Watson and his small fleet down to the Antarctic, where they literally plunge into battle on the high seas.

The Bob Barker on the high seas
Photo courtesy of Carolina Castro/Sea Shepherd

We're talking reality TV at its best, as dozens of cameras follow a small band of committed (and dreadlocked) hippies packing potato guns and stink bombs as they go up against harpoon ships armed with sonic weapons and water cannons. Three seasons are on Netflix, with the fourth available for streaming on iTunes and Amazon. But I don't need to wait until next year to follow this winter's animal-rights action: I'm going to track the campaign live by following @SeaShepherd on Twitter and Watson at, reading updates on the blog at and, if the technology and conditions permit, catching the live-streaming at

—Dave Maass



In this age of over-sharing, people can't stop posting filtered images of themselves to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and any other site that promotes image sharing and community. But like the old days of MySpace, no one likes to appear in those images as they actually are. For the self-obsessed person who feels the need to post photo after photo of their faces looking away from the camera as if they were unexpectedly caught in a pensive mood, there's After Glow. This photo-editing app is awesome because it not only provides stock filters, like Instagram does, but also allows users to tamper with the brightness, contrast, saturation, temperature, sharpness and other factors. You can also add additional stains and frames. That means more freedom to get creative and artistic with your photos. After you're done editing the crap out of your phone pics, you can export to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other apps. Your dog / cat / lunch will look like a work of art. Or hipster bullshit. I don't care what anyone calls it as long as my teenage acne scars are hidden.

—Alex Zaragoza


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