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16 MAY, 2011

Cultural Connectives: Understanding Arab Culture Through Typography

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What typography has to do with cross-cultural understanding and linguistic minimalism.

I’m obsessed with language, such a crucial key to both how we understand the world and how the world understands us. In today’s political and media climate, we frequently encounter the Middle East in the course of our daily media diets, but these portrayals tend to be limited, one-note and reductionist. We know precious little about Arab culture, with all its rich and layered multiplicity, and even less about its language. On the heels of last month’s excellent Arabic Graffiti comes Cultural Connectives — a cross-cultural bridge by way of a typeface family designed by author Rana Abou Rjeily that brings the Arabic and Latin alphabets together and, in the process, fosters a new understanding of Arab culture.

Both minimalist and illuminating, the book’s stunning pages map the rules of Arabic writing, grammar and pronunciation to English, using this typographic harmony as the vehicle for better understanding this ancient culture from a Western standpoint.

The book jacket unfolds into a beautiful poster of a timeless quote by Gibran Khalil Gibran, rendered in Arabic:

We shall never understand one another until we reduce the language to seven words.” ~ Gibran Khalil Gibran

Beautifully designed and conceptually thoughtful, Cultural Connectives is another gem from my friends at Mark Batty Publisher, firmly planting them as one of the most ambitious, creative and culturally relevant independent publishers of our time.

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13 MAY, 2011

Happy Birthday, Velcro: From Nature to NASA, Animated

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Innovation that sticks, or how to turn nature’s aggravations into universal usefulness.

This year, Velcro — one of the world’s most beloved multipurpose inventions — celebrates its 60th birthday, and today marks the 53rd anniversary of Velcro’s US patent. The miracle adhesive was the brainchild of Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral. One afternoon, as he was taking a walk in the forest, he noticed the that burrs — the seeds of burdock thistle — stuck to his clothes and wondered how they did that. So he excitedly rushed home, stuck one under the microscope, and spent the next ten years perfecting nature’s brilliant hook-and-loop adhesion mechanism, eventually producing one of history’s smartest applications of biomimetic design.

To celebrate Velcro’s birthday, here are three different animated short films that tell the same great story of ingenuity and perseverance in just over a minute each.

From HowStuffWorks, here’s a characteristically short-and-sweet evaluation of the invention. Though I have to disagree with their 2/5 on the benefits-to-humanity scale — anything that’s good enough for NASA should be good enough for at least a 4.

From Pan-African media portal ABN Digital, a beat-by-beat recap on the chronology of Velcro’s invention and its impact as a zipper alternative.

And my favorite, from designer Antonio Alarcón Román, a delightfully fuzzy motion graphics narrative:

And a big “THANK YOU” to my wonderful intern, Adam Rubin, who is doing an admirable job of cataloging notable birthdays, deaths and historical anniversaries for me to find interesting content around.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

13 MAY, 2011

Chronophotography: Early Victorian Motion Photography

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What biking in the nude has to do with bird flight and the dawn of cinema.

French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904) made significant contributions to the development of cardiology and physical instrumentation in medicine, but he is best-known as a pioneer of chronophotography — an antique Victorian-era photographic technique that captures several sequential frames of movement, which can then be combined into a single image. In 1882, Marey invented a chronophotographic gun that was capable of taking 12 consecutive frames per second, recorded on the same picture. He used these pictures to study the gallop of horses, the flight of birds, the gait of elephants, the swim of fish, and the organic motion of many more creatures, and his work served as the foundation for Eadweard Muybridge‘s iconic animal locomotion studies and directly influenced the development of early cinema. Yet the background of his landmark images remains obscure.

Etienne-Jules Marey: A Passion for the Trace tells the extraordinary story of a man whose many interests and talents — scientist, physician, aviation researcher, motion studies pioneer and prolific inventor — are a living testament to our founding philosophy of cross-disciplinary curiosity as the root of creativity. This English translation by Robert Galeta is based on the writing of French philosopher of science Francois Dagognet, originally published in 1992.

Dagognet locates Marey at a crucial intersection of cultural, scientific, philosophical and technological modernity.” ~ Robert Galeta

Sample chronophotography, Marey’s and that of others he inspired, with this selection of images culled from various public domain archives.

Etienne-Jules Marey: A Passion for the Trace is part fascinating biography of a rare visionary, part cultural time-capsule of a landmark moment in history that shaped much of our modern visual literacy.

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