I like SolarBeat by WhiteVinylDesign -- a virtual music box of the planets. Each time an orbit is completed, a note is struck. The planets, of course, do not have circular orbits -- but it is in keeping with the spirit of Kepler's, "...the movements of the heavens are nothing except a certain everlasting polyphony".
Johannes Kepler established that the planets move elliptically around the sun, and that they accelerate as they approach the sun. Seminal scientific stuff that prepared the way for Newton, but his deeper belief, seen in his statement above, was that of a connection between music and the movement of the planets.
...And the winners are: Pocket Pond, Soundrop and Use Your Handwriting. All are available free from iTunes. I have picked them more for their design brilliance than their usefulness. I should add that they all reside on my iPhone, but I can see that they would be equally compelling, if not more so, on an iPad with the much larger screen. Pocket Pond by John Moffett is a pond with rippling water and colorful fish. You can touch the water and scare the fish. You can add lotus blossoms and buzzing dragonflies. Beautiful to look it, entirely realistic, with just the right relaxing sounds and motion.
How different are the names for tea around the world? Not very, I was surprised to find. It turns out that just two Chinese pronunciations form the roots from which almost all the world has learned to name tea. From the Hokkien dialect came tê. The Afrikaans, Estonian and Finnish tee, the Hebrew, Norwegian and Icelandic te, the French
MicroElectroMechanicalSystems [quite different from memes which we covered earlier]. MEMS rhymes with “hems” if you are into sewing or “Dems” if you are into abbreviated US politics. They are the new wave of highly miniaturized sensors and actuators that bring ‘intelligence’ to many of our portable devices by monitoring and reacting to physical conditions. They are built on silicon wafers, typically in the micrometer or millionth-of-a-meter size range. They often use photolithographic techniques just like integrated circuits. The Nintendo Wii video game system is one example of usage. It relies on MEMS to translate your hand motions to actions on a video screen. Table tennis, golf, archery, skiing, exercising to a virtual instructor and many other activities are available for the Wii, with MEMS as the link between actual and virtual reality.
First, I want you to see a YouTube video about a 2.5 year old's first encounter with an iPad. Is there any doubt that this device is meant for the newest generation?
A colleague introduced me to Dr. Seuss's ABC on an iPad. Remarkable simplicity: a friendly interactive interface that would draw a child in -- and help her or him to learn to read. The app first came out for the iPhone, and here is the video. But the video really does not do justice to the iPad experience, with the larger screen and a more 'natural' feel than the iPhone for books. At $3.99 it is worth it. Other Seuss favorites are also out, and for Earth Day there is The Lorax that teaches kids about the environment. For older kids, there is Alice (of Wonderland fame) as shown in this somewhat frenetic YouTube video for Alice.
few days ago at the library I picked up the unusually named, "Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty". A great discovery! Turned out to be Tony Hoagland's fourth full-length poetry collection and a stunner. Clear, witty, insightful poems perfectly tuned to today's America -- and I had never even heard of the guy! My fault, since Tony Hoagland's work has appeared in the full range of magazines where clever poetry first appears: American Poetry Review, Poetry Magazine, Agni, Ploughshares and the like. The fellow is even the recipient of two fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim and the National Endowment for the Arts. His last collection, "What Narcissism Means To Me: Poems", was the finalist for the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award. I hope "Honda" wins it for him this time.
The first story is the more profound one. This is from the Boston Globe, "Bribe Fighter", by Jeremy Kahn. It is about fighting corruption in India in a unique way that harnesses shame.
onsider the following scenario at home. An iPad on the table in the den where you watch TV, another in the kitchen. American Idol is not really moving, so you pick up the iPad and take a look at the New York Times. Kid comes in and wants to know when the Celtics game will start. You hand her the iPad; she IMs her friend Sally for the answer (rather than check TV Guide on the iPad). Later, in the kitchen you pick up the iPad from the kitchen table to check your Gmail to see if Bob has sent a reply yet to your question about the car. As you pick it up, you notice that your wife has been doing the Globe's crossword puzzle. No, Bob has not responded. You close Gmail, prop up the iPad to listen to music. It has now become your radio while you make chicken tikka... You have been using the world's first "casual computer".
Subtract Garfield the cat from Garfield the comic strip and what do you get? An insightful look into the not-so-happening life of Jon Arbuckle, Garfield's young "owner". This is the brilliant mirror that Dan Walsh, the subtractor of Garfield, holds up to "everyman". These are existential jokes that bypass the intellect and go straight for the chuckle. With the lasagna-eating supremely self-centered cat gone, many of the panels are sparse, or repeats. But there is always an "aha!" in there. Even Jim Davis, Garfield's creator, is a fan!
Dan Walsh is an IT Project manager from Dublin, Ireland. He started GarfieldMinusGarfield.net in early 2008. He also has a book now available from Amazon. And yes, the idea has been copied, and there is now also Garfield minus Jon.
[Update: If you visit Lala now, you are greeted with the message, "Lala is shutting down. The Lala service will be shut down on May 31st, 2010". What happened? There are two speculations: 1) Apple bought Lala to shut it down, wiping out potential competition. 2) In June, Apple is going to announce iTunes Live, which will be a reincarnation of Lala branded for Apple. I favor the second explanation -- and June is not far away. Below you see my original post from March 27, 2010, toting Lala's merits.]
If you haven't yet heard about Lala, the new place to get your music on the web, you will. TechCrunch says, "Lala may have just built the next revolution in digital music". cnet calls it, "the first indispensable online music service since Pandora". Apple bought them in December 2009.
Lala offers 8 million songs (and counting) any of which you can listen to for free by streaming to a web browser. But that's to listen just once. If you want perpetual access to a favorite, you pay just 10 cents for it. The music is streamed without ads and raises the question: why download songs, rather than just hear them when you want? You can make playlists, and since there is no download, there is no hard disk limit as to how many songs 'belong' to you. This browser-centric model works brilliantly for PCs and laptops today using Adobe Flash. Streaming is being worked on for smart phones and is expected soon for iPhones. For today's portable non-web devices like the iPod or Zune, or iPhones, you can still download the MP3 for 89 cents. Visit Lala to learn more.
he Oxford English Dictionary succumbed in 2003 to officially including “meme” (rhyming with “dream”) as a word. The definition is, “An element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation”. A paradigm for understanding the internet, media, politics and more? You betcha. Urban Dictionary spells this out further. A meme is “an idea, belief or belief system, or pattern of behavior that spreads throughout a culture either vertically by cultural inheritance (as by parents to children) or horizontally by cultural acquisition (as by peers, information media, and entertainment media)”. UD then goes on to give four more definitions: “a pervasive thought pattern that replicates”, “the fundamental unit of information”, “an idea that spreads from blog to blog” and “an internet information generator, especially of random or contentless information”. In today’s world of viral You Tube videos, chain letters and instantly recognizable spam themes like the Nigerian inheritance, these latter definitions of meme are easily understood.
I first saw this Ray Jones box and was reminded of the gull-wing doors of the DeLorean. There is the same elegant defiance of gravity, the clean lines that surprise when first you see them. Exploring the Ray Jones Woodcrafts web site I discovered that this was just one of his "Very Special Boxes". The one you see here is Faithful Friend. There are more elaborate ones, like Inner Sanctum, a work in progress. There, three nested compartments swing open their doors at different angles like the unfolding of a musical movement in wood (go see it at his site -- click on those Very Special Boxes link on the left and scroll down).
Cisco's new CRS-3 is being called a game changer -- at least by Cisco. This Carrier Routing System, a 'core router', can pump data at three times the capacity of its predecessor, and 12 times what the competition (Juniper?) can offer. If 322 Terabits per second does not make you gasp, here is the translation of what this throughput speed means:
I stood there wondering, “Why is that Frisbee getting bigger?” Then it hit me. Notactuallyme
I am not sure if it really qualifies as tea. The subtlety of the white tea leaves asymptotically approaches the imaginary -- but the high notes of the pomegranate are unmistakable and joyous. Tea or not, it is a marvelous refresher at any temperature. I favor it hot, and in a clear glass cup, where the passionate red can bleed out in all its glory. Trader Joe's Pomegranate White Tea bills itself as, "An antioxidant powerhouse". I know some who claim benefits ranging from armor against all winter ills through specific hopes that it can prevent H1N1. For myself, flavor rather than health is the motivator. First, the aroma. It is a like a mini sunburst of piquancy, as you pour steaming water onto the tea bag. Inhaling, you almost taste the pleasant fragrance.
Not since the Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland sang, “Beautiful Soup, so rich and green, Waiting in a hot tureen!” has the marketing of soup interested me as much as the story about Campbell’s recent redesign of its label. This is tampering with an icon. Lest we forget, this icon fetched $11,766,000 in 2006 – the highest price for one of Andy Warhol’s 26 Campbell’s Soup Series paintings. (You see it on the left here!).
So what is the fuss about? It is about Campbell’s two-year 1,500 subject study to determine how consumers reacted to soup. Neuromarketing was used with 40 random customers who were videotaped while shopping and in their homes reacting to soup. When the videos were shown back,
Three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, at midnight Eastern Time, the world is treated to a fresh batch of stick-figure comics from the genius mind of Randall Monroe. This is "xkcd", the online free comic strip that is the first love of geeks and techies everywhere. The byline is, "a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language". Yes, it is geek love, clever world views, insights, inside techie jokes and more: it is a phenomenon! The xkcd site receives between 60 and 70 million page-views each month and the comics are available in three languages.
I haven't seen anything quite like Bert Simon's paper sculpture. It is at once fragile, light, engaging -- startling in it's delicate realism. The one on the right is "Rozemarijn Lucassen".
The process goes something like this: a digitized image of a person. Then the points are converted to planes, using a 3-D program called Blender. After making the planes, Simons adds texture. Then the 3-D model is converted to 2-D by flattening the texture. Finally, after days of cutting and gluing, the final 3-D paper portrait emerges.
I have always been fascinated by architecture. At its best, this is art with high stakes and mathematical boundary conditions, a true creative optimization that can leave you breathless with astonishment. My knowledge of architects has been considerably less than of their works. Correcting this flaw has led me to 5 documentaries that I would force you to see, if I could.
"Maya Lin, A Strong Clear Vision", is an Oscar winning documentary about the then 21 year old from Yale who gave us the Vietnam War Memorial. The film focuses on the controversy and drama surrounding Maya Lin's winning submission for a design. But it goes on through interviews and footage to give a very complete and satisfying picture of the architect. Several of her later works are also covered, like her Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama and a fountain-table at Yale that commemorates the women's movement. This is a surprisingly moving film.
ow do people embrace and start using new technologies? The Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario has published research that suggests that the learners fall into six groups. They are: purposive planners, explorers, visionaries, problem solvers, reluctant learners and 'pinballs'. The author Deborah Compeau defines these as follows:
You have choices. There are the 10 funniest ads. The classics here include Macdonald's showdown between Larry Bird and Michael Jordan as well as three Budweiser favorites: rock, paper, scissors, the Clydesdale streaker and Will Ferrell. Or, you could go for the 10 best technology ads. Who can forget Apple's 1984 introduction of the Macintosh in a "1984" setting? Then we have EDS's 'cat herders' and Intel's Play That Funky Music. Or, you can stop being picky and just go for the top 10 Super Bowl ads of all time. This fine list is selected by MSNBC.
January was National Hot Tea Month in the US. Having missed all the parades :) I thought at minimum I would enhance my tea knowledge. What better place to visit than Top Green Teas? A nice enough introduction to the teas of Japan and China, but what about Moroccan mint tea? And what about the Indian subcontinent's romance with Kehwah (or Kahwa)? I think I can remedy that last oversight here.
The subcontinental Kehwah, for starters, has nothing to do with the Arabian Qahwah, which is coffee. The starting point here is green tea leaves which are typically from Sri Lanka, or Assam or Darjeeling in India. And then there is cardamom (shown here) -- the magic that makes the tea special.
Piet Hein died in 1996 at the ripe age of 91. A Danish scientist and mathematician who "played mental ping-pong with Neils Bohr" (!) he is better known as the brilliant inventor of "grooks". These are pithy, insightful and brief poems that Piet invented to get around the censors in World War II. They went on to become Denmark's much-beloved contribution to the world of letters. Twenty volumes of grooks were published, but were out of print until a 2-volume 'collected works' was published in Denmark in 2002. I paid $1.50 for the copy I show on the left. (Yes, it was a long time ago :)). It is listed at $93.43 'new' on Amazon, showing that Piet Hein has aged well.
Visit Terry Stewart's website page Grooks by Piet Hein to get a great sampling of his work. Here are a few that I like:
I first heard the phrase from Professor Anwar Syed who used to teach Political Science at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. The concept is simple. Everyone has a set of beliefs that are impervious to reason. The sooner you recognize these 'islands of irrationality' the better off you will be in terms of your relationships. And, you will save huge amounts of time in arguments.
This is an amazingly useful insight! I am sure you know of otherwise completely reasonable and logical people who will have a strong, unchangeable and wrong opinion that baffles you. You cannot believe that this paragon of 'normalcy' cannot see what is so obvious to rational you! Try as you might, you have hit a brick wall. Recognize the island. Accept it. Move on.
ool drop caps, like the "C" that leads this paragraph, are available from Daily Drop Cap. This is a project by typographer Jessica Hische where she creates a hand-crafted initial letter each day. It's free to use (she supplies the HTML) as long as you don't modify it, use it commercially, and attribute the work to her.
If you are fascinated by fonts and typography as I am, I have two recommendations. See the documentary Helvetica about the revolutionary typeface that turned 50 in 2007. (In our word processors we have known it as Arial). It is a fascinating story about how the font 'created' modernity and pretty much took over the world of signage (and has yet to let go). The film is available on Netflix. My other recommendation is Robin William's book, "The Non-Designer's Design and Type Books". This is actually a compilation of her two books, one on Design, which talks of page layout and the other on Type, which deals with fonts and typefaces and how and where to use them. There are fascinating lessons from Robin. Interestingly enough, she hates Helvetica!
Well - at least I didn't know about it. It's Google's free Sketchup software for 3D modeling. There is a Pro version for $495 that we can leave to the pros.
You know these people: add one to a team and the work at hand becomes easier. These are the Simplifiers. They create order from chaos. Conversely, add a Complexifier and the work takes on byzantine proportions. Every detail needs to be fleshed out before the work can start. Every meeting to review a project adds to it. Every email has the potential of becoming War and Peace. But before you get too harsh with the Complexifiers, let me clearly state – some of your best workers could be either. It is just that you have never thought of them in this way (until now!). Step through your department and you will see how quickly you can pick who belongs to which category!
Peter Callesen is a Danish artist who is a master of paper. His work, dazzling in its meticulous execution, and often fantastical in its themes, is something to behold. A4 paper, white, cut and glued becomes an exploration. 3D form intersects with 2D flatness -- and there is magic. As Callesen says, "...one could call it obvious magic, because the process is obvious and the figures still stick to their origin, without the possibility of escaping. In that sense there is also an aspect of something tragic in most of the cuts". Visit Peter Callesen and see his work. He has done paper sculptures as large as 7meters by 5 meters( 23 feet by 16 feet).
I first came across the name of this German advertising company in the "The 9th Annual Year in Ideas" issue of The New York Times Magazine. In "The Advertisement That Watches You", the article describes how Jung von Matt created a poster for a Berlin bus shelter that says, "It happens when nobody is watching". Using a camera and face tracking software, when you look at the poster you see a normal, pleasant couple. As you begin to turn away, the image changes to the man raising his fist to hit the cowering woman. A powerful statement against domestic violence! But Jung von Matt has lighter, equally innovative fare. Visit their Ideas section and click on their ads for some engaging treats: the Sparkasse "Walls", the Mercedes Benz" Dreams", to name a couple.
The Harvard Business Review just came out with "The HBR List: Breakthrough Ideas for 2010". The one that caught my eye was the first item, "What Really Motivates Workers", by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. 600 managers from dozens of companies were asked to rank what resulted in the highest motivation for workers. The top selection: 'Recognition for good work (either public or private)'. Dead wrong! The results of a multi-year study of knowledge workers that tracked their day to day activities, emotions and motivation levels showed that the top motivator is Progress. High performance and satisfaction come with a sense of meaningful accomplishment -- a moving forward -- with support from management in overcoming obstacles. Amazingly, this motivator was ranked last by the managers, so tuned are they to recognition as key. Read what's at the link to learn more. (Beyond what is shown, you will need to buy the article or subscribe to HBR).
An interesting side note to the above: I think that this research explains why the "Agile" methodology of software development is so succesful. A major element of it is the daily "scrum" meeting. Mountain Goat Software explains it well. The key is, you go around to each person and ask three questions: 1) What did you do yesterday, 2) What will you do today, and 3) Are there any impediments in the way. Any impediments that are raised become the leader's responsibility to resolve as quickly as possible. Could there be a surer way to ensure success with high motivation?
Afghanistan is the wound that never heals. A reminder of the past comes in the form of a riveting book, “The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders”. This is the story of young Didier Lefevre, a photographer, hired by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF; Doctors Without Borders) to document their journey to northern Afghanistan in 1986 to set up medical services. This is when the Russian invasion was in full swing with the MSF mission illegal and dangerous. (Matters became worse: in August 2004 MSF left Afghanistan, closing down all operations, after 5 MSF staff members were shot and killed. After an absence of 5 years, in 2009 MSF started to engage again in Afghanistan because of the desperation there).
The book is unique. One always wonders upon seeing evocative photographs what happened before and after. Here, Lefevre’s black and white photographs are interspersed between graphics panels in a seamless and compelling first-person narrative. This is a perfect blending of a graphical novel format with photo-journalism. The art, in color, is by Emmanuel Guibert and is in complete balance with the story line. But the storyline is not war, which is always distant if ever-present. This is about the arduous travel, the work of healing, the impact of war and above all the Afghan temperament.
I am all for product choices, as long as they are real and relevant, presented sensibly. But then there are companies that think that permutational excess qualifies as “shelf space” and that a hundred pre-packaged choices means “richness” rather than lack of clarity. Nike has it right. Rather than coming up with 7000 shoes and saying “pick the one that you like from the 7000” they offer you some ready-made choices. Then, starting from these, you are invited at NIkeID into the design process to fully customize what you want: the shoe color, the design and so on. But only if you want it!
I think this approach, of limited selection (for the majority) with a jump to full customizability (for a minority), is where we should be headed. With most products, whether software or cars, a balance is needed. Circuit City (remember them?) offered 6.5 million possibilities if you picked all your stereo system choices yourself. Starbucks is offering 87,000 drink combinations and my cable company is talking of 10,000 channels to choose from (up from a 1000!). Let’s listen to the researchers…
Blu Dot, a Minneapolis furniture maker, decided on their first anniversary to do an experiment. They make the "Real Good" chair, a sleek metal affair. Helped by Mono, a marketing agency, they asked, 'What would happen if we left a bunch of Real Good Chairs all over New York, free for the take? Who will grab them? Where will they go? How will they get there? What will their new homes look like?'. Twenty five chairs were left next to trash (!) on the sidewalks of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Half had a hidden GPS to track their subsequent travel, find the new owner and hopefully get an interview.
The results can be found in Blu Dot's film about the experiment. The New York Times Magazine for December 6, 2009 also has an article about this, "A Real Find", by Rob Walker. The "fastest grab" took 10 seconds by a man in his early 30s who "...took it at once, without a pause in his gait or his phone conversation".
"When you’re hiring, seek out people who are managers of one.
What’s that mean? A manager of one is someone who comes up with their own goals and executes them. They don’t need heavy direction. They don’t need daily check-ins. They do what a manager would do — set the tone, assign items, determine what needs to get done, etc. — but they do it by themselves and for themselves.
These people free you from oversight. They set their own direction. When you leave them alone, they surprise you with how much they’ve gotten done. They don’t need a lot of handholding or supervision."
I couldn't agree more. Click on the link to read the full post.
The 'cool' is literal. These are double-walled glass cups, with a vacuum seal -- nice to your hands while your tea remains piping hot. Made by teasetc. and sold in twos.
I just got them from Amazon and am thrilled! Tea just looks beautiful in them, the color and clarity enticing. They are surprisingly light but sturdy, microwave and dishwasher safe. And the size is just right at eight ounces. Bodum's Pavina cups are similar but a bit larger at 8.5 ounces. Some Amazon customers had found the thin walls a bit too fragile so I didn't go for them.
The ideal use for these cups would be to put in them the stunning origami crane teabags designed by Russian designer Natalia Ponomareva. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell these exist as a packaging concept only.
FreeRice is a unique site engaging people of all ages to do good. Select a subject to play: English Vocabulary, Math, Chemistry, French, etc., and you are asked questions. You can select a suitable skill level -- children can have fun, as can adults. For each correct answer 10 grains of rice are donated through the UN World Food Program. The bowl you see on the right fills up as you progress -- very satisfying! 72 billion grains of rice have been donated so far, since 2007.
It's a lot of fun -- try it. And for those you know headed for SAT exams, this is great preparation to improve their vocabulary.
December 20th will be the death anniversary of William Edwards Deming, a giant of the business world by any standard. Deming died in 1993, respected in his native America but totally revered in Japan, where his ideas fell on fertile ground. He was credited as the individual who single handedly brought Japan from where the joke used to be, “When you yank at the 'Made in Japan' label, the whole thing falls apart”, to where Japan came to symbolize innovation in high-quality products and rose to economic power after World War II. For this he was awarded Japan’s, “Order of the Sacred Treasure, Second Class”, by Emperor Hirohito.
Deming was a statistician, consultant and professor who applied his ideas to production, particularly statistical quality control and then on to broader themes of management for business transformation: reducing costs and waste, constant improvement towards clear goals, removal of barriers that weaken companies, and the like. His famous fourteen principles for management now read as such “obvious” things that it is hard to understand that they were once novel, in fact, revolutionary. Some examples:
“Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service…”
”Institute training on the job.”
“Break down barriers between departments.”
”Drive out fear…”
But here is this statistician also saying something that would (again, today) be heresy in many quarters:
“Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.”
I remember reading Rumi and thinking how very much akin it was to white water rafting. Great poetry is like that, leaving you breathless. There are astonishments, surprises that transform to deeply felt truths, playfulness that you surrender to, insights that the mind revels in, and repeats to itself for pleasure. But while I have read poetry that made me want to instantly relay it to everyone I knew, there have been few books about poetry and poets, except for some haiku ones, which have had the same impact. Enter Josephine Hart’s, “Catching Life by the Throat”. You may know Josephine Hart as the author of “Damage”, that slight, taut, dark, twisted and brilliant tale of want and betrayal. That’s how I knew her. But this book, with the byline, “How to read a poem and why”, is something else. Eight poets are selected, W.H. Auden, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, Philip Larkin, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath and William Butler Yeats. For each, there is an introductory essay of a couple of pages or so, and then a couple more introducing the poems selected. But you are in the hands of a master. This is cogent prose at its best; you are spellbound. Josephine Hart knows her subject, and has just the telling anecdote or quote placed so as to be both insightful and delectable. Take, for example, her opening lines to her essay on T.S. Eliot:
Virginia Woolf to T.S. Eliot: ‘We are not as good as Keats”. T.S. Eliot to Virginia Woolf: ‘Oh yes, we are. We are trying something harder.’ Checkmate!Hooked? I was. And then on to being treated to how The Wasteland came to be:
It was to have as editor one of the great literary midwives in the history of poetry – the amazing Ezra Pound. When he read it for the first time he wrote to Eliot, ‘Complimenti, you bitch. I am wracked by the seven jealousies.’ What poet wouldn’t be?Such gems abound. For Sylvia Plath, a man saying, after a reading, “This is the first time I’ve ever been frightened by poetry.” But let me stop. The point is made. Read the book.