Brain Pickings

PICKED: Cry Baby, The Pedal That Rocks The World

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Since its invention in 1966, the wah-wah pedal has been instrumental in humanizing the sound of the guitar by altering the tone and frequency of its signal to mimic the human voice. Cry Baby: The Pedal That Rocks The World is a fascinating hour-long documentary that tells the story of the wah-wah pedal and its impact on contemporary music through the accounts of musicians, engineers and historians. From its technical evolution to its role in enabling greater creative expression in music, the film features interviews with icons like Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Buddy Guy, Art Thompson, Eddie Kramer, Dweezil Zappa, and Jim Dunlop.

It goes to the heart of what human communication is all about when it comes to transferring that communication to an instrument.”

In celebration of the film, Dunlop is giving away the crown jewel of Wahs: One of the world’s only hand-assembled Swarovski-encrusted Cry Baby, signed by the man behind Cry Baby: Jim Dunlop himself.

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Open-Sourcing Graphic Design: 3 Projects

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What ugly ampersands have to do with wayfinding and vintage pictograms.

We’re big proponents of open source as an enabler of both creative expression and innovation. And while the ethos has come of age in the technology sphere, with posterchildren like Firefox and WordPress, some of its most interesting recent incarnations have been on the creative front. Today, we spotlight three wonderful projects that bring the vision of open-source movement to the world of design.

SIRUCA PICTOGRAM PROJECT

Last week, we looked at the legacy of Isotype — the vintage pictogram-based visual language of the 1930s that sparked the golden age of infographics and infiltrated everything from bathroom signs to traffic signage. Siruca Pictogram Project by designers Stefan Dziallas and Fabrizio Schiavi is an open-source pictogram font, free to download and use, even commercially.

OPEN SOURCE AMPERSANDS

Open Source Ampersands essentially a single-character font — a font file that only contains glyphs for a single character — using the ampersand. Each of the ampersand characters is real text, not an image, and can be selected, copied, pasted and applied CSS to. The ampersands scale as you zoom the page and work in every browser, “even ancient versions of Internet Explorer.” The project serves as a statement against licensing limitations on the web and aims to celebrate open standards and open source.

And though the folks at shit ampersand may be less than thrilled with many of the designs, it’s still an admirable project.

THE NOUN PROJECT

Visual literacy is an essential necessity of modern life. But some of the most widely recognized symbols of visual language are wrapped in a surprising amount of historical and contextual obscurity. This is where The Noun Project comes in — a wonderful effort to collect, catalog and contextualize the world’s visual language.

The site offers an ever-growing range of diverse symbols available for free under a CreativeCommons license. Though many of the popular symbols — from No Parking to Trash to the familiar directional arrows — were designed by the American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1974 with the explicit intention of being in the public domain, finding free, high-quality versions of them online is still a pain. Each symbol on The Noun Project, by contrast, is downloadable as a vector file, the most flexible open-standard format available.

The project, brainchild of LA-based designer and architect Edward Boatman, was funded via Kickstarter and exceeded its $1,500 target nearly tenfold, illustrating the palpable cultural need it’s addressing.

In the long run, the project aims to aggregate and organize symbols into useful categories like transportation, web apps, wayfinding, communication and more, as well as initiate design contests around the creation of new symbols for fields, objects and themes of increasing cultural demand, from gluten-free food to Internet connectivity to food trucks.

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Albert Einstein: How I See The World

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What the theory of relativity has to do with barefoot lectures and antisemitism in Europe.

Today is 3.14, which, besides being Pi day, is also Albert Einstein’s birthday. The iconic German theoretical physicist would’ve been 131 today, so we’re celebrating with Albert Einstein: How I See The World — a fantastic 2006 PBS documentary exploring his life, work and legacy, now free online in six parts. From his audacious scientific exploits to his notorious personal quirks to his controversial political convictions, the film is an essential piece of cultural history and a rare look at one of humanity’s greatest minds.

Historians, philosophers and scientists alike have spent decades trying to dissect the specific source of Einstein’s genius and his gift for ideas. Was it his keen analytical mind? His extraordinary computational ability? His eccentric way of withdrawing into his work? We believe a lot of it had to do with his remarkable curiosity and penchant for cross-disciplinary pattern recognition, something Hanna Loewy captures with wonderful eloquence:

It was like someone who looked for many, many, many dimensions, whether they be proven or not, and could see the whole.” ~ Hanna Loewy, family friend

You can catch the remaining four parts on YouTube. In a similar vein, OpenRoad Philosophical Library just released The World As I See It — a fascinating anthology of Einstein’s observations about life, religion, nationalism, and various personal topics that engaged his intellect. For more on Einstein’s unique brand of genius, you won’t go wrong with Einstein: His Life and Universe.

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