Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘ominus’

13 APRIL, 2011

David Friedman’s Portraits of Inventors

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What Instagram has to do with ice fishing and specialty chairs for canoodling.

For the past few years, New-York-based photographer David Friedman has been taking portraits of inventors — those ordinary people who came up with ordinary-seeming things that transform lives, often our lives, in extraordinary ways. Rather than lofty and fluff-padded, like many such efforts tend to be, these profiles blend humility with creative restlessness, demystifying invention and reframing it not as the idle blessing of some arbitrary muse but as the product of combinatorial creativity and one’s everyday life experience.

STEVEN SASSON: THE DIGITAL CAMERA

If you’re an Instagram obsessive like we are, you’re grateful for the advances in digital imaging on a daily basis. But they didn’t just “happen.” In 1975, American electrical engineer Steven Sasson began exploring ideas that eventually led to his invention of the digital camera, the patent for which was officially issued in 1978, paving the way for the imaging revolution. This portrait was taken shortly before President Obama awarded Sasson the National Medal of Technology.

The options the average person has today for imaging [are] unlimited. You walk around with you cell phone or digital camera today, and the pictures are excellent, they’re reliably produced, you can share them instantly. I like to say to inventors, ‘Be aware that your invention is in an environment when the rest of the world is inventing along with you, and so by the time the idea matures, it’ll be in a totally different world. I think that was the case with the digital camera.”

via Swiss Miss

TAMI GALT: FOLDING WAGON

Looking for an easy way to cary her groceries back from the farmers market that didn’t make her look like a wire-cart-dragging old lady, Tami Galt came up with teh Fold It & Go portable wagon, quitting her 9-to-5 job to work on the seemingly kooky creation.

One day, my boss was yelling at one of my coworkers and I’m like, ‘I gotta do something else, this isn’t working.’ So I just looked through my book of ideas, I looked at which one I liked the best, and said, ‘That’s what I’m working on!'”

JERRY FORD: WHEELCHAIR BRAKE SYSTEM

When crop farmer Jerry Ford‘s son was working at a nursing home and noted the need for a braking system that would prevent wheelchair accidents, Ford decided to invent one.

The cost of the falls is huge, and the technology is there to prevent them. Seat belts in cars actually prevent you from getting more seriously injured in an accident, where my automatic brake system prevents the accident from ever happening.”

TOM ROERING: AMPHIBIOUS VEHICLE

Ice fisherman Tom Roering‘s lightweight drivable amphibious vehicle for land, water and ice that doubles as an ice-fishing shelter and can also be adapted as an ice rescue vehicle.

Ice is never predictable, so each year there is loss of property as well as loss of life.”

BRENT FARLEY: MULTIPLE

Brent Farley‘s first patent was a “chair for aiding the [conjugal] relationships for the confirmed” — that is, a chair for having sex on. Farley went on to become one the most prolific of Friedman’s inventors, his creations ranging from the numbingly utilitarian (“self-hanging hammer” anyone?) to the gobsmackingly kooky (“wing walker,” we’re looking at you).

I look for the slightest problem that I can see, and ask myself, ‘Could there really be, maybe, a little bit better way to actually do that?”

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11 APRIL, 2011

7 Must-Read Books on Education

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What the free speech movement of the 1960s has to do with digital learning and The Beatles.

Education is something we’re deeply passionate about, but the fact remains that today’s dominant formal education model is a broken system based on antiquated paradigms. While much has been said and written about education reform over the past couple of years, the issue and the public discourse around it are hardly new phenomena. Today, we round up the most compelling and visionary reading on reinventing education from the past century.

ISAAC ASIMOV: THE ROVING MIND

Earlier this year, we featured a fantastic Bill Moyers archival interview with Isaac Asimov, in which the iconic author and futurist echoes some of own beliefs in the power of curiosity-driven, self-directed learning and the need to implement creativity in education from the onset. These insights, and more, are eloquently captured in The Roving Mind — a compelling collection of 62 edifying essays on everything from creationism to censorship to the philosophy of science, in which Asimov predicts with astounding accuracy not only the technological developments of the future but also the complex public debates they have sparked, from cloning to stem-cell research. While intended to encourage young people to pursue a career in science, the book is both a homage to the inquisitive mind and a living manifesto for freedom of thought across all disciplines as the backbone of education and creativity.

Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers, be given reference materials, be something you’re interested in knowing, from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else… that’s what YOU are interested in, and you can ask, and you can find out, and you can do it in your own home, at your own speed, in your own direction, in your own time… Then, everyone would enjoy learning. Nowadays, what people call learning is forced on you, and everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed in class, and everyone is different.” ~ Isaac Asimov

SIR KEN ROBINSON: THE ELEMENT

Sir Ken Robinson’s blockbuster TED talks have become modern cerebral folklore, and for good reason — his insights on education and creativity, neatly delivered in punchy, soundbite-ready packages, are today’s loudest, most succinct rally cry for a much-needed revolution. That’s precisely what he does in The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything — a passionate celebration for the wide spectrum of human ability and creativity, which current educational models consistently limit and try to fit into predetermined boxes, extricating rather than encouraging young people’s unique abilities and talents. From Paul McCartney to Paulo Coehlo to Vidal Sassoon, Robinson demonstrates the power of properly harnessing innate creativity through fascinating case studies and personal stories, and offers a powerful vision for bringing this respect for natural talent to the world of education.

We have a system of education that is modeled on the interest of industrialism and in the image of it. School are still pretty much organized on factory lines — ringing bells, separate facilities, specialized into separate subjects. We still educate children by batches. Why do we do that?”

For an excellent complement to The Element, we highly recommend Robinson’s prior book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative — re-released last month, it offers a thoughtful and provocative analysis of the disconnect between the kinds of “intelligence” measured and encouraged in schools and the kinds of creativity most essential to our society moving forward.

A NEW CULTURE OF LEARNING

In A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown approach education with equal parts insight, imagination and optimism to deliver a refreshing vision for the relationship between education and technology, where the two progress synchronously and fluidly — a vision that falls somewhere between Sir Ken Robinson’s call for creativity in education paradigms and Clay Shirky’s notion of “cognitive surplus.” The book touches on a number of critical issues in digital learning, from the role of remix culture to the importance of tinkering and experimentation in creating, not merely acquiring, knowledge. Central to its premise is the idea that play is critical to understanding learning — a notion we stand strongly behind.

We’re stuck in a mode where we’re using old systems of understanding learning to try to understand these new forms, and part of the disjoint means that we’re missing some really important and valuable data.” ~ Douglas Thomas

Our full review here.

CLARK KERR: THE USES OF THE UNIVERSITY

To understand where formal education is going, we must first understand where it came from and what role it served in the cultural context of society. Clark Kerr’s The Uses of the University, originally published in 1963 and based on his Godkin Lectures at Harvard, is arguably the most important work on the purpose of educational institutions ever published. Kerr, an economist with a historian’s sensibility, coins the term “multiversity” at the dawn of the free speech movement of the 60s and examines the role of the university as a living organism of sociopolitical thought and activity. The book, as US Berkley’s Hanna Halborn Gray eloquently puts it, “describes the illnesses to which this organism might be prone, together with diagnoses and prognoses that might prove useful.”

What the railroads did for the second half of the last century and the automobile for the first half of this century may be done for the second half of this century by the knowledge industry: And that is, to serve as the focal point for national growth.” ~ Clark Kerr

ANYA KAMENETZ: DIYU

As big proponents of self-directed learning — the empowering pursuit of knowledge flowing organically from one’s innate curiosity and intellectual hunger — we’re all over Anya Kamenetz’s DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education — an ambitious, albeit slightly alarmist, look at the American higher education system and the flawed economic models at its foundation. Passionately argued and rigorously researched, the book exposes the greatest challenges to education reform and offers a glimmer of hope for new, more open and accessible models of education that transcend the institutional “credential mill” of traditional academia.

The promise of free or marginal-cost open-source content, techno-hybridization, unbundling of educational functions, and learner-centered educational experiences and paths is too powerful to ignore. These changes are inevitable. They are happening now. […] However, these changes will not automatically become pervasive.” ~ Anya Kamenetz

KARL WEBER: WAITING FOR SUPERMAN

Waiting for “SUPERMAN”: How We Can Save America’s Failing Public Schools is the companion text to the excellent documentary of the same name, which we featured last year. It explores the human side of education statistics, following five exceptionally talented kids through a system that inhibits rather than inspires academic and intellectual growth. Unlike other fault-finders who fail to propose solutions, the narrative both mercilessly calls out a system full of “academic sinkholes” and “drop-out factories,” and reminds us of the transformational power that great educators have to ushers in true education reform. More than a mere observational argument, the book offers a blueprint for civic engagement with specific ways for parents, students, educators and businesspeople to get involved in driving the movement for quality education, including more than 30 pages’ worth of websites and organizations working towards this shared aspiration.

In America right now, a kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. These drop-outs are 8 times more likely to go to prison, 50% less likely to vote, more likely to need social welfare assistance, not eligible for 90% of jobs, are being paid 40 cents to the dollar of earned by a college graduate, and continuing the cycle of poverty.”

HOWARD GARDNER: FIVE MINDS FOR THE FUTURE

Sociologist Howard Gardner, one of our all-time favorite nonfiction authors, is best-known as the father of the theory of multiple intelligences — a radical rethinking of human intellectual and creative ability, arguing that traditional psychometrics like IQ tests or the SAT fail to measure the full scope and diversity of intelligence. In Five Minds for the Future, Gardner’s highly anticipated follow-up published more than two decades later, the author presents a visionary and thought-provoking blueprint for mental abilities that will be most critical in the 21st century as we grapple with issues of information overload and creative entrepreneurship. Perhaps most notable, however, is Gardner’s insistence that the five minds he identifies — disciplined, synthesizing, creating, respectful and ethical — aren’t genetically encoded givens but, rather, abilities we actively develop and cultivate with time, thought and effort.

The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons. Valuable in the past, the capacity to synthesize becomes ever more crucial as information continues to mount at dizzying rates.” ~ Howard Gardner

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08 APRIL, 2011

Five Manifestos for the Creative Life

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How a numbered list can start a personal revolution.

Some days everyone needs a little extra encouragement. The words or lines or colors don’t want to come, or worse, we don’t even want to sit down to create. That’s when we turn to these inspiring manifestos, any one of which is guaranteed to give our uncooperative creativity a sharp kick in the pants. Here are five of our favorite contemporary manifestos that nudge ideas out of your head and into the hands of the world.

RIGHT BRAIN TERRAIN

We’ve long been fans of the amazing work of Frederick Terral, the creative visionary behind design studio Right Brain Terrain. His “Alternative Motivational Posters” have in fact adorned our walls and desktop wallpapers for some time. But the love affair really began at the words behind his whole operation:

You may not be a Picasso or Mozart but you don’t have to be. Just create to create. Create to remind yourself you’re still alive. Make stuff to inspire others to make something too. Create to learn a bit more about yourself.”

We can’t imagine more sound advice. And charming, too: Terral’s manifesto appears online in its original form as scanned notebook pages, complete with sketches. Happily you can support all things Right Brain Terrain, and surround yourself with life-affirming statements, by purchasing limited edition prints from the studio’s gorgeous selection online.

THE CULT OF DONE MANIFESTO

Guidelines to get you from Point A to finished product, The Cult of Done Manifesto was written by tech guru Bre Pettis (of MakerBot fame) in collaboration with writer Kio Stark in 20 minutes, “because we only had 20 minutes to get it done.” Following that same parameter, their manifesto consists of 20 truisms borrowed from hacker culture. To wit, number four on the list:

Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.”

With iteration at the heart of its process, The Cult of Done Manifesto will banish your inner perfectionist (and its evil twin, procrastination).

HOLSTEE

We first featured the Holstee manifesto over a year ago, and our fondness for their sustainable social enterprise has only grown since then. Whether you’re raising a family or venture funds for your new business, rallying cries for creativity don’t get much stronger than this:

This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.”

You can buy these bracing words in poster, card, and even bib form, so that every time your baby throws a cup of peas on the ground you’re reminded of the things that matter most in life.

WORK IS NOT A JOB

It’s no coincidence that three out of the five manifestos featured here come from design-y entrepreneurial ventures, since as a discipline design takes a “fail forward” approach to creativity. Our number-four favorite was written by Catharina Bruns, the German-born designer and illustrator behind Work Is Not A Job. Bruns’s raison d’être is effecting “a paradigm shift in how people approach ‘work’ not as your 9-5 job but how you individually contribute to the world.”

Empower yourself and realise the importance of contributing to the world by living your talent. Work on what you love. You are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you.”

In addition to design-for-hire, Work Is Not A Job also offers products, from hoodies to fine-art prints, to keep you inspired on the daily.

DO THE WORK

We’re over the moon that author Steven Pressfield has a new release out this month. Part of Seth Godin’s e-publishing experiment The Domino Project (which we featured earlier this year), Do the Work is intended as a companion guide to Pressfield’s earlier text – and one of our all-time favorites on the creative process – The War of Art. Where that book was almost Zen-like in tone, containing koans about art and life that have had us returning to it for years, Do the Work focuses on practical methods and tools. Still, Pressfield doesn’t pull any punches, getting right to the point about what’s at stake in whether or not we create.

There is an enemy. There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us. Step one is to recognize this. This recognition alone is enormously powerful. It saved my life, and it will save yours.”

Even better, Do the Work is free(!) until April 20th, so do yourself an enormous favor and snag a copy now.

Whatever you do, we hope this list of manifestos helps you manifest your passion; and if you have other favorite creative directives leave us a link in the comments. Now go forth and create!

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

Donating = Loving

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07 APRIL, 2011

Metrocard Collages: 3 Phenomenal Artists

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What Oprah’s diet has to do with the Mona Lisa, Frida Kahlo and the art of meta.

The art of making whimsy out of the mundane is one of the highest manifestations of creativity. We’ve previously seen incredible artwork created out of paper, cardboard, money, spam, books, office supplies and even toilet paper rolls. Today, we turn to an even more narrow byproduct of mundanity: The iconic New York City Metrocard.

JUAN CARLOS PINTO

For the past 10 years, New-York-based Guatemalan artist Juan Carlos Pinto has been using discarded Metrocards to create vibrant mosaic portraits of cultural icons and local heroes alike. His artwork comments on issues of social justice and environmental conservation with a visual aesthetic that emanates the expressive lushness of the ancient Mayan folklore traditions of his homeland.

Frida Kahlo

Louis Armstrong

Zebra

Bruce Lee

METROCARDOODLES

If mosaic collages use the Metrocard as a pixel on a giant canvas-screen, then Metrocardoodles does the opposite, using the Metrocard itself as the canvas and superimposing on it playful doodles that comment on pop culture. From Obama to Oprah, these quirky creations are anything but high art, but we just can’t stop looking anyway.

Metrocardoodles are the work of illustrator, art director and animator Andrew Thomspon, whom we may or may not have met in a past life in Philly.

NINA BOESCH

Artist Nina Boesch doesn’t simply sample from a New York staple, she comments on New York staples with her work. From the Statue of Liberty to Conan O’Brien to the Metrocard itself, for an exercise in ultimate meta, her stunning Metrocard collages portray the Big Apple’s urban iconography, human and architectural, with a remarkable balance of simplicity and complexity.

And for the mandatory digital customization add-on, Boesch even has a microsite that lets you Metrocard yourself.

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.