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Magic Potion

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Awkward Family Photos

With the holiday season approaching, do your part to avoid clichéd, and downright tragic, memories with the help of Awkward Family Photos. The hilarious photo blog was created earlier this year by a couple of childhood friends who compile cringeworthy snapshots from far and wide. Click through the growing cache of awkwardness to see families posing in the bathtub (Dad pulls up a chair on the toilet), with a raccoon, in matching karate outfits, in front of a burning barn, and while clutching various semi-automatic weapons. The good-natured captions only add to the fun. One shot of an unsmiling family arrayed stiffly in vacation mode is accompanied by the observation, “Something tells us an itinerary is involved here.”

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The Jell-O Gallery

Ready for a visually stimulating autumn road trip? There’s always room for Jell-O -- specifically the Jell-O Gallery, located in Le Roy, New York, once home to General Foods’ Jell-O factory. Open every day through December 31, the Jell-O Gallery welcomes you to its website with, "If you haven't been to LeRoy recently, please do so!" and from there details what you can expect to see, including “a large new exhibit that reflects Bill Cosby's influence over 30 years.” And don’t miss the gift shop, which offers keepsakes such as Jell-O-emblazoned molds, thimbles, and, um, boxer shorts, although we're not sure what to make of this online description of them: "A great gift for the man in your life, or wear them as shorts (they don't have a fly)."

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Smashing Pumpkins

‘Tis the season for novelty typefaces, and we have just the thing to get you in the holiday spirit. Dafont.com offers freeware, shareware, and demo versions of more than 50 Halloween-themed fonts. We’re partial to pumpkins. From Tim Watkins comes Pumpkinese, which inserts jaunty script characters into solid black pumpkin shapes, while French designer Claude sketched more realistic pumpkins for Jack O. Punkins, Bumkins, and KR Pick a Pumpkin offer an array of jack-o-lantern dingbats. Blue Vinyl’s Trick or Treat also aims to please, with dingbats ranging from black cats and a bubbling cauldron to skulls and spiders. If it’s truly spooky symbols you’re looking for, try Dancing Dead, for which Mike Larsson created an uppercase alphabet backed by skeletons and a matching set of undead dingbats: skeletons in assorted poses.

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Pantone Meets iPhone

While the iPhone isn’t yet available in a rainbow of colors, there’s an app for that! From color authority Pantone comes myPANTONE, now available for the iPhone or the iPod Touch, which allows users to capture, create, and share Pantone color palettes. On-the-go designers can snap an iPhone photo of whatever inspires them, use the app to instantly match the colors, and share their Pantone palettes in forms ranging from e-mailed color swatches to Facebook updates. Amaze your friends with your ability to identify 14-0848 Mimosa (Pantone’s 2009 “color of the year”) at fifty paces.

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3-D Histogram Maker

After a recent project had us overdosing on pie charts and line graphs, we found ourselves in a visual representation rut. Three-dimensional color histograms to the rescue! We owe it all to 3DHistogram.com, an open source web application that allows users to produce and model three-dimensional color histograms based on a supplied image. A project of Minneapolis-based Third Ave Design and its wind-powered servers, the application analyzes the distribution of colors in an uploaded image and renders the results in mesmerizing constellations of correspondingly hued 3D cubes. Betcha can’t make just one.

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Abandoned Polaroids

As of Wednesday, September 30, the last batches of Polaroid film passed the expiration date printed on their packages, but the products of this now defunct form of photography live on—online. Among the forums helping instant memories endure is Abandoned Polaroids, a Flickr pool that contains nearly 500 photos. Many of them are the work of Baltimore-based photographer Brian Hjärna, who has a keen eye for the dark beauty of old chairs and even older industrial machinery. Heavy on parched landscapes, roadside signage, and ramshackle interiors, this growing group of images is a hauntingly inspirational coffee table book waiting to happen.

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Symbols on Tape

Symbols, logos, and a whole lot of multi-colored masking tape are the preferred media of Swiss artist Nic Hess. Among his latest projects is a sprawling four-part installation on the walls of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. On view through November 5, “Automatic Crash Response” is a warped game of Chutes and Ladders that mixes expertly applied masking tape, whimsical drawings, and out-of-context corporate identities (is that the Geico mascot or just a sassy lizard?) from the lobby to the exit that leads to the parking garage. It’s up to the viewer to figure out how the stylized eagle head of the United States Postal Service relates to a giant hog in a shopping cart, a water-skier, and the logos of recently failed banks, stacked like dominoes near the main staircase. When it comes time to take down his installations, Hess likes to keep the used tape, squashing it into densely packed, colorful balls. “I like the idea that they are really heavy and round,” he explained at a recent lecture at the museum. “Because for me, that’s like the implosion of the drawing and of of this industrial material.”

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Candy Wrapper Museum

Mr. Big-Shag. Chomp. Betcha’ Life. Rambo Black Flak Bubble Gum. Nice Mice. The distinctive packaging of these candies and hundreds more might be lost to the ages if it weren’t for the Candy Wrapper Museum (CWM), a project of supreme sweet tooth Darlene Lacey. “I began collecting wrappers in 1977 with an eye toward the unusual, ironic, and aesthetic, although I also collected ‘classic’ but more mundane wrappers for posterity's sake,” she writes on the CWM website, which features highlights of her collection accompanied by witty captions. And while the wrappers endure, the candy itself doesn’t hold up so well. “One thing I learned the hard way is that no matter how chemically inert or unresembling food a candy product might be, it will eventually become molecularly unstable and turn into a hideous, sticky goo.”

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The Sketchbook Project

The Sketchbook Project is back. For its fourth incarnation, the Atlanta-based Art House Co-op is building a publicly accessible library of sketchbooks. Participants are asked to donate their finished sketchbooks to the project, which will be exhibited in galleries around the country beginning in December. Anyone can participate. Just sign up to receive a bar-coded Moleskine, fill it with art, mail it back, and you’re guaranteed a place in the collection. Each participant will be randomly assigned one of about 30 themes for his or her sketchbook. The ultimate goal of the project is to create a permanent collection that will be browsable by theme, media, or location. The organizers anticipate opening the permanent sketchbook library location next year. Ready to sketch your way to immortality? Sign up by October 1 to participate.

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Typeface Lift

Georgia and Verdana are getting a face lift. Commissioned by Microsoft in the mid-1990s as ideal for on-screen display, the typeface families were designed by Matthew Carter and hinted for screen legibility by Tom Rickner of Ascender Corporation. Now Carter, Ascender, and Font Bureau are working with Microsoft on a project to expand and enhance Georgia and Verdana for new applications, both on the screen and on the page. Look for new weights and widths as well as extended character sets. “The new additions to the font families are a natural and timely progression,” notes Carter. “They offer a wider range of typographic versatility… while remaining consistent with the originals.” The first of the new fonts is expected to be released early next year.

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