Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

29 JUNE, 2011

BBC’s The Beauty of Maps


What cartographic creativity has to do with the limitations of copyright law.

More than a year ago, I featured BBC’s excellent program, The Beauty of Maps: Seeing Art in Cartography, at the time only viewable on BBC’s highly restrictive iPlayer. The series has since been pulled from iPlayer and is unavailable on DVD — a shame of media obsolescence, since it was a remarkable celebration of creativity in cartography. But its presence on YouTube, more than a clandestine treat for map-lovers, makes a powerful case in the copyright debate on having “illegal” content online, even if it’s unavailable elsewhere. It breaks my heart to think about the invaluable knowledge and insight rotting away in siloed archives and, in my book, any law that enables this is a broken law and one that begs breaking. Enjoy.

Our love affair with maps is as old as civilization itself. Each map tells its own story and hides its own secret. Maps delight, they unsettle, they reveal deep truths, not just about where we come from, but about who we are.”

Hereford’s mappa mundi is many things — an encyclopedia of all the world’s knowledge, a memento mori, a remarkable piece of medieval art. It remains a unique testament of a vanished world and a vivid illustration of the depth, complexity and artistic genius of maps themselves.”

For more on the genius and charisma of cartography, don’t miss these 7 must-read books on maps.

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29 JUNE, 2011

7 Platforms for Collaborative Creation for the Post-Industrial Age


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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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29 JUNE, 2011

Anything You Want: Derek Sivers on the Secrets of Entrepreneurship


Why not to trust futurists, or what the entrepreneurial power of empathy has to do with the art of letting go.

Derek Sivers may be best-known as the founder of CD Baby, commonly considered the first true empowerment platform for independent musicians, but he also happens to be one the smartest, most interesting and most curious people I know. His first book, Anything You Want, is out today and makes the entrepreneurial heart sing with inspiration and insight into the business of following your dreams.

The book is the latest release by The Domino Project, one of 7 platforms changing the future of publishing.

Today, I sit down with Derek to talk about the essentials of entrepreneurship, selflessness, and forming a healthy relationship with the prospect of failure.


You’re extraordinarily good at synthesizing complex insights into digestible, bite-sized nuggets. If you had to do that with your top three learnings from your CD Baby experience, what would those be?

#1 : Delegate, but don’t abdicate.

Founders have a problem delegating, so I learned that one well, and my business took off huge because of it. But then I tried to delegate even more, even delegating major decisions inside the company that completely changed its culture. And that’s when it all went downhill. I had over-delegated. That’s when I learned the word “abdicate” : to give away authority or power. I learned it too late. The damage was irreparable. That’s why I sold the company.

#2 : If it’s not a hit, quit.

Many times before and after CD Baby, I launched projects that I thought were brilliant. But people weren’t into it. I used to persist, to try to push my idea into the world, against all resistance. But now I’ve learned from experience: starting a business is like writing a song. You can’t know which one people will like. If the world isn’t into it, don’t keep pushing it. Change the song or just write another song.

#3 : Know what makes you happy.

Too many people start business by emulating others. Thinking they need to be like the people profiled in magazines, or the last business author they read. But what you want out of life is different than them. If you prefer privacy, or are happier when your company is small, you need to know this and make a plan that accommodates it, instead of pursuing someone else’s path.


What’s the number-one quality one needs to have or choice one needs to make in translating a brilliant idea into successful entrepreneurship?

Be selfless. Do not think of yourself, your needs, your protection, your security. Think only of what would be a dream-come-true for your customers, and find a way to make that happen. Only after you design a perfect business from their perspective, should you adjust the numbers to make sure it’s sustainable. But focus entirely 100% on them, not yourself.


Other thought-leaders have previously spoken about the fear of failure and it — or, more precisely, your seeming resistance to it — seems to be a running undercurrent in much of your work. What’s been the role of failure in your career and what would you say is the key to having a healthy relationship with it as an entrepreneur?

Like the “#2: If it’s not a hit, quit” thing: You need to learn to let go, shrug it off, and try something else. Think of the life of a songwriter. They write 100-500 songs in their life. One is a hit. Who knows why? Some random combination of ingredients or timing makes it really click with people.

It’s the same with anything we do. Even if you had a big dream, pushed for it, and it didn’t happen. Learn to let it go and do something else. There are so many different things worth doing. You’ve got plenty of ideas.


Much has been said about the tectonic shifts in the music business today. Where do you see it all going in 10 years, both as an industry model and a sociocultural paradigm?

Nobody knows the future. Anyone who claims to know the future is full of shit, and not to be trusted.

Seriously. We have this strange obsession with wanting to know the future. But if you can learn to let that go, and admit you don’t know, you can stay focused on the very valuable skill of helping people here-and-now, instead of guessing what might be some day.

I don’t think about the future for one minute. Not at all. I can have some personal intentions, like, “I would like to move to Brazil in a few years.” But guessing what might happen in the world? No need.


Back in the day, you and I became friends largely through the overlap of our reading lists and our shared belief that what we choose to read plays an important role in the life of the mind and the entrepreneurial self. What books have excited you the most over the past year?

The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine

Seeking Wisdom by Peter Bevelin

Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Ed.: Anything You Want is out today and an absolute gem. It’s available in hardcover, mp3 audiobook, CD audiobook, shareable 5-copy and 52-copy mulitpacks, ultra-limited-edition collectible signed by Derek, and, of course, on Kindle.

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.

28 JUNE, 2011

The Ego Trick: Julian Baggini in Search of the Self


Why “I” is a verb, or what the building blocks of identity have to do with developing compassion.

How “you” are you, really? Character is something we tend to think of as a static, enduring quality, and yet we glorify stories of personal transformation. In reality, our essence oscillates between a set of hard-wired patterns and a fluid spectrum of tendencies that shift over time and in reaction to circumstances. This is exactly what journalist Julian Baggini, co-founder of The Philosopher’s Magazine, tries to reconcile in The Ego Trick: In Search of the Self — a fascinating journey across philosophy, anthropology, sociology, neuroscience, religion and psychology, painting “I” as a dynamic verb rather than a static noun, a concept in conflict with much of common sense and, certainly, with the ideals of Romantic individualism we examined this morning. In his illuminating recent talk at The RSA, Baggini probes deeper into the theory of self-creation and the essence of our identity.

The topic of personal identity is strictly speaking nonexistent. It’s important to recognize that we are not the kind of things that simply popped into existence at birth, continue to exist, the same thing, then die off the cliff edge or go into another realm. We are these very remarkably ordered collections of things. It is because we’re so ordered that we are able to think of ourselves as being singular persons. But there is no singular person there, that means we’re forever changing.” ~ Julian Baggini

For an excellent companion read, you won’t go wrong with Antonio Damasio’s excellent Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain.

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.