Beastly bullies, meek monsters, and why Donald Duck is finally proven totally useless.
Mythology is such a rich source of creativity and storytelling genius, full of wildly imaginative creatures — from the Minotaur to unicorns to Big Foot. Today, we’re turning to this age-old treasure chest and looking at three curious, quirky dissections of the mythical monsters ecosystem.
A FIELD GUIDE TO TALKING BEASTS
From the Bible to Tim Burton films to Budweiser commercials, anthropomorphic creatures and talking bests abound. And they’re predictably consistent — so it’s always handy to know what you’re dealing with. That way, you can come prepared for your next encounter with a large talking bird or an opinionated lizard.
We always knew Donald Duck was a useless, pantless sucker.
MYTHICAL CREATURES MIXOLOGY CHART
It’s hard to outcool the brilliant simplicity of a good Venn diagram, with its uncanny power of illuminating and clarifying. Which is why we love this fabulous Mythical Creatures Mixology Chart, inspired by the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection of guardian beasts.
With names as hilarious as Harpy and Cockatrice, we bet some of these beasts were given countless wedgies and stuffed in the beast school lockers by the Big Bad Minotaur and his posse of, erm, bullies.
THE HIERARCHY OF MONSTERS
Speaking of hierarchy of powers, that’s no small matter in beast world. So blogger Chris Braak has done the dirty work of an elaborate who-would-win pitting and produced this simple yet not-to-be-contested Hierarchy of Monsters, based on how dangerous the monsters are against each other and to all the other monsters on the list.
So there you have it, a who’s-who, who’s-better-than-whom, my-monster-is-cooler-than-your-monster of the beast world.
And should you ever run out of mythical beings to marvel at, we can never get enough of Stefan G. Bucher’s Daily Monster, which is so good it got a book deal.
Donating = Loving
Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:
You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:
Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.
From thinking to tinkering, by way of color, music and photography.
This is Part 2 of the three-part Brain Pickings holiday gift guide. Today, we’re looking at goods and goodies for kids of all ages and the eternal kid in everyone.
HERE COMES SCIENCE
Indie rock icons They Might Be Giants are among the most revolutionary musicians of our time. Their critically acclaimed Here Comes Science children’s series lives up to their relentless thinking-in-all-kinds-of-directions innovation and consistent excellence. The 2-disc CD/DVD album is a bundle of creativity and entertainment, tied with a ribbon of education. Although aimed at the K-5 set, the playful lyrics and brilliantly animated videos are an absolute treat for musicologists and design junkies alike — we can attest.
We reviewed it in full, with trailers and more, here.
Perfect for: Musicologists, science lovers, those into creative and non-traditional education
FUJIFILM INSTAX MINI
Polaroid may have barely escaped the kiss of obsolescence, but instant film cameras will always hold immeasurable nostalgic charm in the digital age. The new Fujifilm Instax MINI offers a lovely twist on your dad’s old Land Cam, packaged in a gorgeously designed Mac-ish white body that’s just a joy to hold and look at. It prints credit-card-sized photos and, for those interested in the technical shenanigans, has a built-in flash, four exposure settings for indoor and outdoor shooting, and — our favorite — a wicked wide-angle lens that makes for some gorgeous, gorgeous shots. It’s a return to simpler times of no memory cards and USB cables and i-anything. But it gives you more creative control while still being a no-brainer to operate.
Sure, we love (love love) the design, but we’re even more taken with what it stands for — an analog connection to the fleeting moment, celebrating the essence of the presence in a way that preserves it for the future.
Who doesn’t love a good pop-up book? Marion Bataille‘s ABC3D takes the familiar genre it to a whole new level.
Slick, stylish and designerly, it’s hard to capture its tactile, interactive magic in static words — you have to have it in your hands to truly appreciate it.
We took a closer look, along with 4 more creative alphabet books, last week.
Perfect for: Designers and their kids, bookbinding geeks, paper craft lovers
PART OF IT
It’s never too early — or too late — to introduce the idea of the conscious consumer. And when it’s done with quirk and creativity, it’s bound to engage, inspire and, well, effect change. Enter Part Of It, a wonderful venture founded by illustrator duo Christopher Sleboda and Kathleen Burns in 2007, working with artists to create products for causes they are passionate about.
From Helvetica alphabet t-shirts to a lovely tote bags, profits from these goodies benefit charities chosen by the artists. (Who, by the way, include Brain Pickings darling Adrian Johnson.)
Perfect for: The socially-conscious and design-driven
THE INDIE ROCK COLORING BOOK
Indie music defines itself through the colorful quirk of its artists and evangelists. Without that, it would blend in with the grey mediocrity of the mainstream. For the past two years, obscenely talented UK illustrator Andy J. Miller has been working on a project that celebrates this whimsy. Today, he finally releases the Indie Rock Coloring Book — a wonderful collection of hand-illustrated activity pages, mazes, connect-the-dots, and coloring pages for indie icons like Bloc Party, The Shins, Iron & Wine, Broken Social Scene, Devendra Banhart, MGMT, The New Pornographers, The National, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
We reviewed it in full, with trailers and more, here.
Perfect for: Indie music fans and their artistically inclined offspring
Photographer and all-around geek Theodor Gray spent 7 years gathering objects, from the fascinating to the mundane, that embody and exemplify the 118 elements in the periodic table. Then he shot them brilliantly, producing The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe — an utterly captivating exploration of the matter that we, and all the things around us, are made of.
Set to the first authorized video version of Tom Lehrer’s iconic eponymous song, The Elements video gives you a taste for what to expect from this gem of a book.
We’re firm believers in the power of tinkering in developing creativity.
And there’s nothing more stimulating to the creative brain than playing with simple, flat shapes and basic colors to produce a near-infinite variety of 3D whimsy. Which is why we love this 100-piece set of clear-color magna tiles. Sure, kids will be all over it, but we dare you not to love it yourself.
Perfect for: Tinkerers, builders, color lovers, budding industrial designers
In 1926, English author Alan Alexander Milne took a shelf of his son’s stuffed toys and turned them into some of the best-loved books ever published — the Winnie-the-Pooh series was born. This year, 81 years after Christoper Robin and the gang left the Hundred Acre Wood, they are back for a new adventure.
Return to the Hundred Acre Wood is among the most epic comebacks in English literature. Although Milne himself is long dead, the new book is written by David Benedictus — who also produced the audio adaptations of Winnie-the-Pooh, starring Dame Judi Dench — and meticulously based on Milne’s Pooh stories, with artwork by Mark Burgess in the style of original illustrator E. H. Shepard.
Perfect for: Readers, nostalgics, Pooh lovers of all ages
We love LEGO — who doesn’t? And what better way to learn about the man-made hallmarks of our civilization than by building them with your bare hands?
No, you won’t be lugging mastabas across the Egyptian desert — we’re talking about the LEGO Architecture Series. From the Taj Mahal to Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces, you — or your little one — can get down and dirty with humanity’s greatest architectural achievements.
Ah, Crayola. Easily one of the most beloved brands of all time. Even just saying the name evokes that distinct, wonderful smell of your first crayon.
Now, you can resurrect your inner kid with a lovely, desk-job-safe Crayola Executive Pen, in orange, green, violet and yellow. Need we say more?
Perfect for: Everyone!
We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s main articles, and features short-form interestingness from our PICKED series. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.
Ideas in real life, or how to increase the statistical probability of finding a clown, Malcolm Gladwell, and a rocket scientist in the same room.
It’s no secret that we’re huge TED fans here at Brain Pickings, but we also follow other conferences with a great deal of interest — ambitious alternative events determined to make oft-repeated phrases like “design thinking” and “interdisciplinary innovation” mean something. These expansive — but not prohibitively expensive — experiences also aim to create communities that live beyond the initial flurry of inspiration. And while we certainly don’t believe the world needs gratuitous gatherings of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, we do believe in incubating ideas and connecting inspired changemakers.
So here’s a list of the top-10 non-TED alternative live conferences — and we use the term loosely — bound to make your brain sparkle.
Named after Thomas Edison’s dictum, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% Perspiration,” the 99% conference has a unique raison d’être: “making ideas happen.” In a twist to traditional conference talks, the speakers are asked to share the stories behind the execution of their great ideas, rather than the ideas themselves. (And with a brand-name lineup featuring Michael Beirut and Seth Godin, attendees were already familiar with the speakers’ main ideas anyway.)
Produced by the creativity consultancy Behance, the inaugural 99% conference took place in New York in April of this year; next year’s is already on tap for April 15-16, 2010.
Inspired by Tim O’Reilly’s famous invite-only hacker summit, Foo Camp, BarCamp borrowed from the hacker slang foobar to create a set of guidelines for an alternative, open-to-all, ad-hoc event around a common topic or theme that anyone can host anywhere. (These user-generated experiences are also sometimes called unconferences or non-conferences, after legendary eccentric curator Hans Ulrich Obrist‘s experimental non-conference in Jülich, Germany, in the 90′s.)
A self-organizing community of diverse interests, BarCamp participants are also its presenters. Attendees spend the first part of each event brainstorming and voting for session subjects, and can then choose among the various breakout groups. As you might imagine, the quality of a BarCamp can vary considerably depending on who’s present — we’ve had mixed experiences, accordingly. But as the saying goes, you get what you pay for; and BarCamps are typically free.
As with the 99%, the Do Lectures have the proactive premise “that the Doers of the world can inspire the rest of us to go Do something.” Fewer than 100 attendees, speakers, and staff gather in west Wales under a tent for a weekend of cross-disciplinary inspiration. Speakers at this year’s second-annual Do session included mountaineer Paul Deegan and Tony Davidson, Creative Director of ad agency Wieden+Kennedy.
The Do Lectures were started by David and Clare Hieatt, founders of the activewear brand Howie’s.
With the tagline “feast on good,” the focus here is social enterprise: self-sustaining, next-generation initiatives with nothing less than world-changing intentions. Talks from inspiring models such as charity: water and New Orleans’s 9th Ward Field of Dreams made for an amazing lineup, and everything from fifteen-minute breaks to flatware is carefully curated by the conference organizers. (Okay, perhaps we’re a little biased, having attended the first Feast as a fellow.) Bias notwithstanding, though, All Day Buffet’s thoughtful stewardship of this startup conference makes it a must-follow event.
An acronym for “Good Experience Live,” GEL is a twice-yearly conference in New York, focused — as its name suggests — on the human experience in all arenas. The main event takes place in April and features speakers from business, design, technology, and other service-driven disciplines (so basically anything). GEL Health focuses on improving the patient experience and is held in October. Entering its seventh year, GEL was founded by Bit Literacy author and user-experience consultant Mark Hurst.
Started in Seattle in 2006, Ignite talks hacked Pecha Kucha’s 20×20 format (below) for a Google generation’s attention spans. Speakers have five minutes and 20 slides (which automatically rotate every 15 seconds) with which to present anything from cheesemaking to conservation. In addition to these nano-talks, participants also spend part of any Ignite event making — usually coding or moding something to be judged in a subsequent contest. Founders Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis have roots in online networks (O’Reilly Media and Etsy.com, respectively), and correspondingly, Ignite events are openly geeky affairs. Since that inaugural event Ignite has spread to cities around the world, with strongholds in New York, Helsinki, Paris, and Portland.
A global group of 30 people under age 30 just completed six weeks at this innovation camp in Berlin, forming Palomar5’s first graduating class. Six young entrepreneurs founded the group and formulated the question posed to these lucky souls: “How will we work in the future?”
The residency itself then became a kind of living laboratory for Palomar5’s premise. (In a great nod to the industrial-era fabrik that served as backdrop, participants were given overalls to wear for their first weekend, “to initiate a kind of reset-mode.” From the look of Palomar5’s Flickr sets, the attendees may have enjoyed a Hefeweiss or two on the former beer factory site as well.) Following weeks of envisioning, workshop-ing, and prototyping ideas, the camp culminated in a festival and livestreamed summit (that included a talk by Brain Pickings favorite Aaron Koblin).
Palomar5 may be in hibernation mode now, but you can still connect with its community on Facebook and Twitter.
What started in 2003 in a Tokyo gallery as an event for designers has since spread to 260-plus cities, from A Coruña to Zürich. Pecha Kucha pioneered the 20-slides-in-20-seconds format, providing a built-in check for creatives who tend toward too much exposition. Beyond this constraint, however, the talks have been held in bars, churches, and swimming pools; equally diverse are Pecha Kucha speakers, fulfilling the founders’ wish that anyone, from upstart to well-established, might be able to present.
Check here to see if there’s a Pecha Kucha Night near you, and catch up on presentations past on their recently launched video portal.
Held in the Netherlands, the annual PINC conference typically features around 16 speakers and 500 guests.
Its acronym stands for People, Ideas, Nature, and Creativity, and the prevailing ethos — as articulated by PINC’s founder, publisher Peter van Lindonk — is “passion.” (Not for nothing did van Lindonk spent 15 years moonlighting as a ringmaster for Amsterdam’s World Christmas Circus.)
The eclectic program aims to recharge the brain’s batteries with “[a]n inspiring cascade of new ideas, great stories, and impressive visual presentations.” Next year’s PINC is scheduled for May 11-18, 2010, but you can watch videos from past years here.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the fantastic success that is TEDx.
These independently curated, local talks have brought TED’s mission of “ideas that matter” to 350-plus places globally, and created their own rich cache of video for anyone to watch. TED may be the sine qua non of idea conferences, but these smaller stages are showcasing an exciting amount of big thinking.
We’re certain that we missed other great conferences and meeting models in this rundown, particularly non-English-language-based experiences, so do use the comments section to tip us off to your favorite alt-conferences.
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.
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.
Brain Pickings has a free weekly interestingness digest. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week's best articles. Here's an example. Like? Sign up.
donating = loving
Brain Pickings remains ad-free and takes hundreds of hours a month to research and write, and thousands of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy and value in it, please consider becoming a Member and supporting with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:
(If you don't have a PayPal account, no need to sign up for one – you can just use any credit or debit card.)
You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:
Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps supportBrain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated.