Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

07 JULY, 2011

The Dawn of Computer Music: A PBS Segment from 1986

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A brief history of MIDI, or what the dawn of digital sampling has to do with air pressure.

The question of whether technology dehumanizes people, as MoMA’s Paola Antonelli convincingly argues, humanizes objects isn’t new. In fact, it’s at the heart of this vintage PBS segment (I II III) on computer music recorded in 1986, at the dawn of CDs, synthesizers and other “new” music-making machines, voicing the inevitable question that every technological innovation brings:

Is high technology depersonalizing music or, instead, is music serving to humanize the machine?”

From how computers must recreate the complex waveforms of physical instruments to what role the composer’s choice plays in technology-assisted music to the intricacies of the then-emergent art of digital sampling, the segment, featuring legendary music historian Max Matthews, encompasses some early concerns about man and machine as collaborative creators, many of which have endured through waves of technological innovation to remain at the forefront of our philosophical and practical concerns today.

It’s been predicted that the personal computer will soon replace the piano as the primary instrument on which children learn music.”

(Alas, in classic digi-douchery fashion, the uploader has disabled embedding — catch the three parts here: I II III.)

Sound is a series of vibrations transmitted by air pressure. A computer hooked up to an amplifier and speaker can create sound merely by switching on and off, causing a vibration in the form of an electrical current. If these on-off vibrations are frequent enough, they sound like musical notes.”

Published the following year and of equal fascination is Foundations of Computer Music — an excellent primer on the profound shifts in music consumption and production that took place in that era, mixed in with a healthy dose of paleofuture amusement.

via MetaFilter

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06 JULY, 2011

Concord Free Press: Free Their Books and Their Minds Will Follow

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Free press, priceless words, or what Paul Revere has to do with the future of grassroots publishing.

We’ve previously explored tomorrow’s merchants of culture, the literati’s meditations on the future of the written word and, most recently, 7 platforms changing the future of publishing. Today, we turn to the delightful and unusual approach to publishing of the Concord Free Press, whose experiment to “free the books” dares us to interact with books more like we do with stories — as social artifacts given freely, widely shared, and fluidly circulated.

Wielding original fiction by the likes of Scott Phillips, Gregory Maguire, and Wesley Brown, the unorthodox Massachusetts-based project, operating under the motto “free their books and their minds will follow,” is rethinking the goals of publishing as it pushes us to imagine how we can harness the power of stories for purposes beyond the commodification of culture. Founded by writer Stona Fitch, Concord Free Press publishes limited quantities of its first-edition paperbacks and gives them away for free.

CFP’s latest paperback, ­Rut by Scott Phillips, sports a bold cover design and “$0.00″ price tag. (We also couldn’t help but swoon over CFP’s ever-clever logo that silhouettes a reading-and-riding Paul Revere.)

By taking a copy, you agree to give away money to a local charity, someone who needs it, or a stranger on the street. Where the money goes and how much you give –that’s your call. When you’re done, pass this novel on to someone else (for free, of course), so they can give. It adds up.”

In this short code of conduct, the CFP lays out some admirable new goals behind monetizing the written word. It pushes us to engage with our social responsibility and re-circulate our stories to create connected communities, a fine addition to our running list of collaborative consumption tools that empower us to have more by owning less.

And it pays — CFP’s books generate between $45,000 and $50,000 per title in donations, and those are just the donations that people actually report.

To generate more support for its authors and free books, the same folks behind CFP recently launched the Concord EPress, where fans can catch up on electronic versions of any of the “given-out” titles they missed in paperback. Digital editions of previously printed titles are available as a Kindle downloads, with the proceeds of each $7.77 ebook being split two ways between the author and CFP’s free paperback program.

If you’re as blown away by CFP’s mission as we are, you can support the project with a tax-deductible donation.

Cindy Chiang is a thinker, tinkerer and strategist curious about how design and technology can engage with human emotions, cognition and creativity to change the world. When she’s not in wonder or wanderlust, she’s working on growing her creative toolbox. She currently works in Philadelphia and lives on trains, planes and BoltBuses.

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29 JUNE, 2011

7 Platforms for Collaborative Creation for the Post-Industrial Age

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Reining in the maker movement, or what 3-D printed bikinis have to do with adjustable-height dog dishes.

In general, we espouse a less-is-more model for living here at Brain Pickings. And while collaborative consumption is making it ever-easier to own less, collaborative creation is enabling us to make what we do own more meaningful, thanks to a host of platforms and services that transform the things of our imagination into 3-D reality. Here are seven companies and initiatives shaping a new movement of makers.

THINGIVERSE

The granddaddy of this latest generation of DIY makers,Thingiverse is the Brooklyn-based brainchild of Zach Smith and Bre Pettis, whose awesome Done Manifesto we featured on Brain Pickings a few months back. Founded in 2008, Thingiverse is a platform for artists, designers, and engineers to share digital design files via Creative Commons or General Public Use licenses. Its companion site, Makerbot Industries, sells machinery (including the fantastically carnivalesque Thing-O-Matic) and hardware necessary to manufacture the goods themselves.

Thingiverse got The Colbert Report treatment earlier this month, but gave back just as as good: Pettis oversaw the real-time creation of a bust of Stephen Colbert himself.

QUIRKY

Since 2009, Quirky has sought to bridge the gap between inventors and their inventions using a crowdsourcing model. Each week, Quirky’s community votes on the hundreds of submitted ideas to narrow them down to 10, two of which are then selected by an internal team of designers, engineers, researchers, and marketers. Anyone can consult on details throughout the development process, such as color, fabrication, and logo design; contributing to ideas makes users “Influencers” in Quirky parlance, who eventually earn a percentage of the finished products’ eventual revenue.

Imagine a day not too far a way when you’re riding in a subway, taking a bus ride, or walking in the park. Out of the corner of your eye you see something familiar. You see something beautiful. You see something that didn’t exist a few short months ago. Something that you helped create.

After confirming a predetermined number of orders, products go to market for sale in the Quirky shop as well as selected retail partners. With a focus on functionality and clean design, Quirky currently offers 150 items with more inventions to come.

ADAFRUIT

Like hard candy for hackers, Adafruit provides electronics kits and parts for original, open-source projects. Its M-O is DIY, that is, empowering users to create everything from bots to wearables and anything in between that they might imagine. At Adafruit‘s site your inner geek will be in heaven, surrounded by circuit boards, sensors, and wires.

All of Adafruit‘s parts and plans are available via Creative Commons license (all that is, except the ingredients and recipes for a blinking LED Christmas tree). For the latest hack-it-yourself project, check out the unbelievably cool, programmable iCufflinks, below:

SHAPEWAYS

Shapeways is your go-to guide for 3-D creation. As opposed to using laser-cutting techniques, 3-D printing is an additive process that builds items up by accumulating layers. The Shapeways platform offers three ways to bring models to market: users can upload their own digital designs for one-time production or to sell to others; or for the non-CAD savvy among us, the platform will pair would-be makers with designers to realize their vision.

With 850-plus items currently for sale online, Shapeways biggest splash this season is the N12 printable bikini–the maker movement’s never looked so hot.

LITTLEBITS

Through intuitive and playful design, littleBits takes engineering, usually reserved for experts, and puts it into the hands of artists, designers, makers, and anyone with curiosity about how things work. littleBits, the brainchild of MIT Media Lab alumna Ayah Bdeir, produces libraries of preassembled electronic circuits that can be snapped together to create tiny circuit boards. Held together via magnets, the discrete electronic parts are color-coded, making assembly a bit like playing with LEGOs — if LEGOs could light up, play music, and sense solar power.

Although its designs are all available via Creative Commons, you can also preorder littleBits starter kits for $99. Production is currently being completed in small batches, with the first prototypes shipped earlier this spring.

PONOKO

Branding itself as “the world’s easiest making system,” Ponoko launched in late 2007. An online platform for bespoke design, Ponoko hosts tens of thousands of user-generated designs, customizable for on-demand production. In addition to M-I-Y (make-it-yourself) templates that guide you through the design process, the site also lets creators bid on bringing ideas to market.

CLOUDFAB

Another platform for 3-D product printing, CloudFab lets professional creators make prototypes — from one to thousands — of goods using a distributed network of fabricators. The two-year-old company matches designers with digital manufacturers, trading on the idea of excess market capacity. From “Day 2 Night Convertible Heels” to an exoskeleton for DARPA, CloudFab lets product designers test the tangibility of their creations, no matter how unique.

While a 3-D printer in every pocket may still be a few years away, practical alternatives to mass production are finally a reality, offering hope for a new frontier of changing our relationship with conspicuous consumption through conspicuous creation.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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