Brain Pickings

How a Book is Made, Circa 1947


2011 is barely underway and it’s already been a tumultuous year for the evolution of publishing. As entire industries struggle to plot the future of the book, we find it important to take a step back and take a look at its past. An 8-bit unicorn tipped us off to the priceless 1947 documentary Making Books — a joint effort of Encyclopedia Britannica Films and the Library of Congress that will make you gasp and wince and gasp again as it opens its treasure chest of retro technology, matter-of-factly industrialism and unwitting vintage sexism. (Alnd cue in omnibus of short films about obsolete occupations.)

This man is an author. He writes stories. He has just finished writing a story. He thinks many people will like to read it. So, he must have this story made into a book. Let’s see how the book is made.”

While we aren’t ones to romanticize the wonders of yore, there’s something to be said for the kind of craftsmanship that we lose, or at the very least dramatically alter, as we substitute the digital page for the printed one. We also have to wonder about the lens of delightful quaintness with which tomorrow’s historians and media scholars will tell the story of, say, designing for the iPad reading experience.

via Dead SULs

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Brainman: Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant


What the circumference of a circle has to do with on-demand polyglotism.

With all the recent buzz about pitting a supercomputer against the sharpest human brains, it’s worth pausing and taking a moment of awe at the rare superhuman brains that serve as a reminder of mankind’s dormant potential. I recently had the pleasure of seeing thirty-something British autistic savant Daniel Tammet take the TED stage and open a rare door to an extraordinary, superhuman brain. On the heels of Born on a Blue Day — one of the year’s must-read books by TED speakers — here is a fascinating 2005 UK documentary titled Brainman, which takes us inside Tammett’s infinitely intriguing mind.

Entralled by Tammet’s exceptional brain, which makes him one of only about 50 such autistic savants living in the world today, scientists embark on a series of experiments testing the limits — or, as it turns out, the seeming limitlessness — of his cognitive prowess. The results are simply astounding.

I’m seeing things in my head, like mental sparks firing up, and it’s not until the very last moment that those sparks tell me what on earth they mean.

What makes Tammet so remarkable isn’t merely that he was able to learn Icelandic in a single week, or that he broke the European record by reciting the number pi up to the 22,514th digit, or that he has accute synesthesia. It’s that, despite the social paralysis of his condition, he is not only willing to be a public voice but also able to be an outstandingly eloquent one.

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10 Years of Bicycle Film Festival in 3 Minutes


We love bike culture and independent film, so we’re big fans of the Bicycle Film Festival, which has been celebrating the bicycle through music, art and film since 2001, pushing the frontlines of the urban bike movement. In less than 3 minutes, this lovely 10th-anniversary compilation captures the spirit of the festival with an inspired remix of footage from the hundreds of films that graced the festival’s roster over the past decade.

To join the movement, submit your cinematic homage to the bike by April 1.

Thanks, Heather

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Graphic USA: Miniguides to 25 Top Cities by 25 Top Designers


Four of our favorite things — graphic design, maps, cities and unconventional guidebooks — converge in Graphic USA, a brilliant new volume inviting 25 independent designers from 25 of the most noteworthy American metropolises to capture the unique vibe of their city. (And because we know you’re wondering: The cities included are Anchorage, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Charleston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Providence, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis and Washington D.C.) Witty, beautifully illustrated and indulgently insidery, the mini-guides are how designers do travel — and a warm invitation for you to join the aesthetically keen inner circle.

Part CitID, part Hitotoki, part something else entirely, Graphic USA is as much an absolute gem of graphic design as it is a rare and unusual guide to the most interesting parts of the most interesting cities.

Thanks, Amy

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