Brain Pickings

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13 AUGUST, 2009

Data Visualization Spotlight: In The Air

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Carbon monoxide, spraying façades, and the art of seeing the invisible.

What an odd beast the air is — it slides below our sensory awareness, yet it’s the source of all life. But what if you could “see” the air and how it interacts with the rest of our environment?

That’s what In The Air, a fascinating visualization project, aims to answer by making visible the microscopic and invisible agents of Madrid’s air — gases, particles, pollen, disease carriers — and exploring how they interact with each other and the rest of the city.

The project includes a spectacular digital tool, which lets you play with and data-cross the various elements of the air in a way that makes behavioral patterns emerge.

The resulting data get fed into a physical prototype called a diffuse façade — an installation of colored water vapor diffusers informing passersby of real-time air contaminant levels. It doubles as a microclimate management tool, lowering the temperature in the summer and humidifying the air in the winter.

In The Air comes from Madrid’s Medialab-Prado and was developed for last year’s Visualizar seminar.

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12 AUGUST, 2009

Collaborative Creation: PSST!

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Transcending the ego, or why the future of storytelling is in its past.

Collaborative authorship in motion arts is something we’ve spotlighted before as a cultural trend gaining increasingly more traction — from a fan-made, feature-length Lord of The Rings prequel to a superb animated 3D short film.

Enter PSST! — a collaborative film project of 17 brilliantly produced films by 51 teams of designers, directors, animators and composers. Every film is comprised of three sections — beginning, middle and end — each produced by three different teams.

This process is the whole idea behind PSST! — a technique derived from the Dadaist game of Exquisite Corpse and the children’s game Telephone and applied to the arts of motion graphics, animation and film-making.

The project is an epitome of the cultural shift from ego-based authorship glorifying the individual creator to open creative collaboration harnessing the collective capacity for brilliance. Above all, it’s a beautiful return to the roots of storytelling — the foundation of film and, arguably, all art — as a shared experience.

Founded in 2006, PSST! is organized and curated by animator and designer Bran Dougherty-Johnson.

See all the films on the project’s Vimeo channel and marvel at the beauty of collaborative storytelling.

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11 AUGUST, 2009

Design-Off: Top 3 Live Design Competitions

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Cardboard monsters, digital marathons, and why design is just like tennis.

Geeks may be the new rock stars, but designers are the new jocks. Live, real-time design competitions are springing up as gauntlets of creative prowess. Here are the top 3 live design-offs, where seasoned designers and rising stars alike get to hash it out for honor and glory.

ART CLASH

Every year, 10 artist duos from all around Europe get invited to Zurich’s Art Clash — a live art battle, where teams compete against each other in 3 rigorous rounds of painting and drawing on different objects, from a cardboard box to the back door of a car.

The competition is a super-condensed version of the creative life, reduced to the bare bones of a design career: deadlines and ego.

In June, Austria’s Permanent Unit, took home the 2009 title.

See more of the work, impressive in its own right but even more so in light of the adrenaline-inducing time constraints.

LAYER TENNIS

We love Coudal and their numerous incarnations. One of them is the cleverly conceived Layer Tennis — a series of live design events, held over a “season” of Fridays, where players from all over the world face off with with video, animation, sound, photos, typography and more.

The format is part competition, part collaboration — two players swap a file back and forth in real-time, adding to and embellishing the work. Each artist gets fifteen minutes to complete a “volley,” after which the artwork gets posted to the website. A third participant, a writer, provides play-by-play commentary on the action during each ten-volley match. In the end, the 9,000+ Season Ticket Holders — that’s how seriously they take the tennis metaphor — vote on the winner.

Chattanooga-based designer and developer Shaun Inman took the Second Season title in July.

Sign up for next season’s tickets — it’s free — and join in this glorious work/leisure intersection for creatives. Once you do, you’ll have the opportunity to nominate yourself or a friend to actually compete — they’re now accepting nominations for next season.

CUT&PASTE

We’ve featured Cut&Paste before, so we won’t overelaborate. Suffice it to say the global digital design tournament has only been getting more intense over the years, drawing high-profile designers and animators from all over the world, backed by an army of heavyweight sponsors.

The competition includes three divisions — 2D Design, 3D Design and Motion Design. Each round is a grueling 8-hour face-off, where four competitors go head-to-head, frame by frame, to render their way to victory.

After a series of qualifying events in 16 cities worldwide, this year’s global championship will be held on October 16 in New York, where the 48 finalists will battle it out for the grand title. The event will be broadcast via live webcast, so stay tuned.

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10 AUGUST, 2009

Subway Personality: The MBTI Map

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What your subway station has to do with your propensity for extroversion.

We love psychology. We love data visualization. So we’re all over the MBTI Map, a visualization showing the relationships between human personality descriptors from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test — a tool designed to make iconic Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types more digestible — using subway lines as a metaphor for the connections between the different representative words and personality types.

A product of the Integrated Design Laboratory at Korea’s Ajou University, the map is a rare application of information design to the fields of psychology and sociology — and a brave effort to capture something as vague and abstract as personality visually and concretely.

Using the 161 words in the MBTI test, the team conducted a survey asking the relative closeness between pairs of words. Using cluster analysis, they extracted a total of 39 representative words. These were then arranged spatially using multidimensional scaling (MDS), which explores the similarities and dissimilarities of data, and wrapped in a subway metaphor.

Each subway line represents one of the 16 MBTI personality types, with subway stations arranged based on the semantic distance of the 39 word descriptors based on the MDS analysis. The outer circle contains the 161 original word descriptors from the test, grouped in 8 layers based on their hierarchical order. Finally, the colors of the words intuitively represent their meaning — so “calm” is in the blue spectrum and “passionate” in the red.

Pore over the brilliantly crafted map in this high-res PDF. And why not kill a few hours by taking one of these Jung-inspired tests, each resulting in a four-letter personality type, then finding yourself on the map? They aren’t the real MBTI deal, but they’re free and a ton of fun.

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07 AUGUST, 2009

Notes & Neurons: Music, Emotion and the Brain

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From axons to a cappella, or why music gives us chills and thrills.

Music is easily the widest-reaching, most universal emotional facilitator. Anecdotally, it shapes so many of life’s everyday experiences: An epic movie would fall flat without a cinematic soundtrack, a party without dance music is unthinkable, and a run without an upbeat playlist feels somehow much more tiresome. Scientifically, music has been shown to impact anything from our alertness and relaxation to our memory to our physical and emotional well-being.

Today, we take a look at just how music affects our brain and emotion, with Notes & Neurons: In Search of a Common Chorus — a fascinating event from the 2009 World Science Festival.

But before we launch into the geekier portion, here’s a quick improvised treat from phenomenal jazz and a cappella performer Bobby McFerrin, who embodies the intimate relationship between music and the human element.

The panel — hosted by John Schaefer and featuring Jamshed Barucha, scientist Daniel Levitin, Professor Lawrence Parsons and Bobby McFerrin — takes us through a series of live performances and demonstrations that illustrate music’s interaction with the brain and our emotions, exploring some of the most interesting questions about this incredible phenomenon.

Is our response to music hard-wired or culturally determined? Is the reaction to rhythm and melody universal or influenced by environment?

We encourage you to see the full Notes & Neurons: In Search of a Common Chorus program, or snack on some more digestible bites over at World Science Festival’s Vimeo channel.

And while we’re at it, we highly recommend neuroscientist Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain — an utterly fascinating read about the extreme effect music can have on our cognitive and emotional lives.

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