Brain Pickings

Cyclepedia: An Homage to the Beauty of the Bicycle

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A brief visual history of innovation in bicycle design.

It’s no secret I’m a longtime lover of the two-wheel life. Now, a new book brings two of my great passions — bikes and design — together with such poise and passion that it’s hard not to swoon. Cyclepedia: A Century of Iconic Bicycle Design is part heartfelt homage to the beauty of the bicycle, part museum of notable bike innovations, channeled by Vienna-based designer, bike aficionado and collector Michael Embacher through 100 remarkable bicycles that range from peculiar niche velocipedes to cutting-edge racing models to high-end design masterpieces.

Delicious technical details and historical bits enrich each images, and a foreword by renowned designer and avid cyclist Paul Smith bridges the geekery of veloculture with the bike’s place in pop culture.

Bianchi C-4 Project model

The C-4 frames of this sleek, futuristic bike made their debut in cycling competitions in 1987.

Image courtesy of Michael Embacher via the BBC

Inconnu (Unknown)

Nicknamed the Inconnu (Unknown) and produced by a designer who remains anonymous, this folding bike takes around one hour to fold and, once folded, the trailer it forms needs to be tolled since it's flatter and broader than the bike itself.

Image courtesy of Michael Embacher via the BBC

Vialle Velastic

Dating back to 1925, the Vialle Velastic aimed to make cycling as comfortable as possible and was advertised with a promise to make cycling feel like sitting in an armchair.

Image courtesy of Michael Embacher via the BBC

Bike Friday

Designed for the world tourist, this bike comes in a case for transporting it on aeroplanes that doubles as a trailer while cycling. The designers, Alan and Hanz Scholz, were inspired by the idea of people cycling away from the airport after landing.

Image courtesy of Michael Embacher via the BBC

Bob Jackson Tricycle

This unusual tricycle was made in the UK in 1995, customized and hand-crafted to the rider's requirements.

Image courtesy of Michael Embacher via the BBC

Solling Pedersen

More than 100 years old yet still in production today, this unorthodox design comes from Danish blacksmith Mikael Pedersen, who set out to create a frame that could fit a rider of any height. As the rider added his or her weight, the bike gained stability thanks to a flexible saddle suspended on a cord.

Image courtesy of Michael Embacher via the BBC

Tur Meccanica Bi Bici

A curious compact Italian tandem from 1980.

Image courtesy of Michael Embacher via the BBC

Equal parts illuminating and aesthetically transfixing, Cyclepedia: A Century of Iconic Bicycle Design is bound to tickle your curiosity, quench your design eye, and make your hands itch for the handlebars.

HT @kboelte / Sierra Club; images via BBC

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Pump Up The Volume: A History of House Music

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From John Travolta to Eurotrash, or what Chicago’s basements have to do with Moscow’s nightlife.

Few movements in music have gained as much critical mass as house music. Pump Up The Volume: A History of House Music is a fantastic 2001 documentary about one of the biggest music groundswells in history, which began in basements and ended up at the forefront of pop culture. Available on YouTube in 13 parts and gathered in this playlist for your viewing pleasure, the film traces house music from its early days as New York disco to its engulfing takeover of Europe’s dance scene through fascinating interviews with the people who propelled the movement and rare footage of the clubs where it came of age.

From the very beginning, it was really the gay and black people that kept dance music alive. Disco, dance music, was really danceable R&B music that we were dancing to, and it wasn’t until Saturday Night Fever came along that it exploded and every goomba in the suburbs started dancing.” ~ Mel Cheren, West End Records

A long-out-of-print but excellent companion book can be found with some poking around Amazon.

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Culture: Leading Scientists Explore Societies, Art, Power & Technology

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What 14th-century cathedrals have to do with Google, Darwin and the purpose of art’s existence.

Yesterday, we devoured The Mind — the first in a series of anthologies by Edge.org editor John Brockman, curating 15 years’ worth of the most provocative thinking on major facets of science, culture, and intellectual life. On its heels comes Culture: Leading Scientists Explore Societies, Art, Power, and Technology — a treasure chest of insight true to the promise of its title, featuring essays and interviews by and with (alas, all-male) icons such as Brian Eno, George Dyson and Douglas Rushkoff, as well as Brain Pickings favorites like Denis Dutton, Stewart Brand, Clay Shirky and Dan Dennett. From the origin and social purpose of art to how technology shapes civilization to the Internet as a force of democracy and despotism, the 17 pieces exude the kind of intellectual inquiry and cultural curiosity that give progress its wings.

Here’s a modest sampling of the lavish cerebral feast you’ll find between the book’s covers.

In his 1997 meditation “A Big Theory of Culture”, music icon and deep-thinker Brian Eno explores what constitutes cultural value and how it comes about:

Nearly all of art history is about trying to identify the source of value in cultural objects. Color theories and dimension theories, golden means, all those sort of ideas, assume that some objects are intrinsically more beautify and meaningful than others. New cultural thinking isn’t like that. It says that we confer value on things. We create the value in things. It’s the act of conferring that makes things valuable. Now this is very important, because so many, in fact all fundamentalist ideas, rest on the assumption that some things have intrinsic value and resonance and meaning. All pragmatists work from another assumption: No, it’s us. It’s us who make those meanings.”

In “Art and Human Reality” (2009), the late and great Arts & Letters Daily editor Dennis Dutton made an early case for provocative Darwinian theory of beauty:

[It] is not some kind of ironclad doctrine that it is supposed to replace a heavy post-structuralism with something just as oppressive. What surprises me about the resistance to the application of Darwin to psychology is the vociferous way in which people want to dismiss it, not even to consider it.”

In “Social Networks Are Like the Eye” (2008), Harvard physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis examines why networks form and how they operate:

The amazing thing about social networks, unlike other networks that are almost as interesting — networks of neurons or genes or stars or computers or all kinds of other things one can imagine — is that the nodes of a social network — the entities, the components — are themselves sentient, acting individuals who can respond to the network and actually form it themselves.”

In “Turing’s Cathedral” (2005), science historian George Dyson recalls his visit to the Google headquarters in the context of H. G. Wells’s 1938 prophecy:

I felt I was entering a 14th-century cathedral — not in the 14th century but in the 12th century, while it was being built [...] The whole human memory can be, and probably in a short time will be, made accessible to every individual [...] Wells foresaw not only the distributed intelligence of the World Wide Web, but the inevitability that this intelligence would coalesce, and that power, as well as knowledge, would fall under its domain.”

Thoughtfully curated to stimulate your keenest critical thinking — like, for instance, the juxtaposition of Jaron Lanier’s digital dystopianism and Clay Shirky’s optimistic retort — Culture is on par with The Mind as one of this year’s most significant time-capsules of contemporary thought.

Images via Flickr Commons

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