9,306 hours of culture’s biggest brain cloud, condensed into a tiny word cloud.
By Maria Popova
We love TED. We love data visualization. We love fun. So we had some fun with crafting our very own semantic representation of TED talks.
The data comes from this excellent spreadsheet of every TED talk available, compiled by an anonymous author. (We stumbled upon it somewhere down the Twitter rabbit hole months ago.) We used Wordle for the cloud visualization and pulled the words from the official title of each talk — a fairly reliable representation of what the talk is actually about.
Although this model is certainly limited and not at all representative of the full breadth of what TED stands for, an essence begins to emerge — it’s highly concerned with innovation and the future, it’s about tackling global issues, and design is a big part of the solution puzzle.
What Dolly Parton has to do with today’s hippest indie rock scene.
By Maria Popova
Minnesota-based singer-songwriter Haley Bonar is a fascinating intersection of indie rock, pop-punk and folk. Channeled in a sweetly melodic voice, her lyrical sensibility flows from playfully light to deeply insightful in the stroke of an acoustic chord.
She’s part Aimee Mann, part Neko Case, part your favorite NPR Live session. And unpeggably novel at the same time.
If Haley’s voice sounds familiar, you may have caught her doing back vocals for another indie favorite of ours, Andrew Bird. But her latest solo album, Big Star, is a force all its own. Our top track: Better Half.
Among the singer-songwriter’s musical feats is a stride-stoppingly excellent cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene.
And bonus points to Haley for her gig on our long-established favorite, Daytrotter, where you can snag the entire session for free.
Why your grandmother’s favorite pastime proves mathematicians are a bunch of clueless hacks.
By Maria Popova
Science writer Margaret Wertheim and her twin sister Christine are on a crusade to correct the longest-running errors of science through art. Their weapon? Crocheting.
They are the founders of theInstitute For Figuring — an exploration of the aesthetic and poetic dimensions of science and mathematics. It’s part mathematics, part feminine handicraft, part marine biology and part environmental activism. And it also happens to be a defining pillar of our mathematical understanding of nature.
So why crocheting?
For a very scientific reason, actually: The peculiar structure typical of corals and sponges is a special form of geometry known as hyperbolic geometry, which just so happens to be the bane of mathematicians’ existence — it’s near-impossible to model on a computer, and the most accurate way mathematicians have of modeling it is through crocheting.
And even that took scientists nearly 2 centuries to figure out — until the discovery of hyperbolic geometry in the 19th century, there were only two kids of space conceivable: Euclidean, or flat space, and spherical. But it wasn’t until 1997 that the crochet modeling method was discovered by a mathematician at Cornell, disproving the most fundamental axiom of mathematics — Euclid’s Parallel Postulate.
So here in wool, through domestic feminine art, is the proof that the most famous postulate of mathematics is wrong.
In fact, species like sea slugs have existed for millions of years, happily violating the very principle Euclid claimed was impossible to violate — something mathematicians had previously chosen to conveniently overlook. Crocheting these structures offered not only a new model of geometric representation, but also a whole new model of thinking: This sort of non-euclidean geometry is actually the very foundation of the theory of relativity, thus the closest thing we have to an understanding of the shape of the universe.
The project began in 2005, the first year that global warming really became an issue of global concern for both the science community and the enlightened general public. Coral reefs, which are incredibly delicate organisms, are among the species most severely affected by global warming — any rise in sea temperatures causes vast bleaching events, which inevitably kill entire coral colonies.
But perhaps most fascinatingly, the project serves as a brilliant allegory for the evolution of life on earth. Originally a centralized effort by the Wertheim sisters, the IFF began to attract outside contributions from people all over the world. Today, it has evolved into a global collaboration of science-minded craft-masters, who have contributed tens of thousands of hours worth of human labor totaling thousands of coral models — a truly grassroots exploration of our collective understanding of marine biology and mathematics.
Algebraic representations, equations, codes… We live in a society that’s obsessed with presenting information in this way, teaching information in this way. But through this form of modeling, people can be engaged with the most abstract, high-power, theoretical ideas.
Werheim is particularly passionate about the play-based explorations of concepts, stressing the importance of creating “play tanks” in a society dominated by think tanks — great minds who think about the world and write grand symbolic treaties about it, but don’t engage with great ideas on the highest abstract level.
Watch Wertheim’s fantastic TED talk, where she reveals a glorious intersection of beauty and math.
Decheesing love, or how Michael Cera went from cameo to Romeo in a never-signed-up-for-it way.
By Maria Popova
The only thing cheesier than the subject of love itself is a film about love. Unless its about love. Which is why we love Sundance gem Paper Heart — a wonderful documentary about Charlyne Yi, a girl who neither understands love nor believes in the very possibility of it.
Cherlyne embarks on a journey to dissect the nature of love, traveling the country and interviewing people — little kids in “puppy love,” couples who grew old and grey together, Vegas-wedders — to hear their stories about the ever-elusive subject.
And then comes the wildcard — Charlyne meets actor Michael Cera (of Arrested Development and Juno fame, among others) in order to interview him.
But the two grow increasingly fascinated with one another and something begins to boil between them, something that may just be, oh, who knows, love? Suddenly, the film director realizes that Charlyne and Michael’s relationship has taken a life of its own and has now become part of the documentary, which turns into a wonderful piece of anthropological field study of love in the very moment when it crystallizes. (HD trailer here.)
What we love most about Paper Heart is that it remains exactly what it set out to be — a real documentary — yet it’s about the very subject of all the world’s sappy fiction, exposing it in a refreshing new light that strips it of all the Hollywood glam and romantic scene music scores, leaving nothing but the raw and vulnerable human emotion in the heart of this universal phenomenon.