Monday, January 28, 2013

Lego Ceationary

My son and occasionally play Creationary, a Lego Game.  The game can be fun and I like making things with the little guy but there are some problems.  Before I get into them, here are some things we made.  I have included two pictures of each item with the card and die in the image.  I have posted each picture twice; in the first picture I have obscured the card image so you could guess if that interests you.

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Alright, I hope that was fun.  So my two problems with the game, and they are minor, are age-appropriateness and culture specificity.

I don't know how much my Mars Rover looks like the image, but either way, my son didn't know what a Mars Rover was.  Similarly, there was a Concorde image and my completed product looked either like it or a Space Shuttle.  My son has never seen the Concorde and doesn't remember if he had seen a Space Shuttle.  The Concorde last flew in 2003, two years before my son was born.  I just can't imagine the target audience for this game being born in the '90s and so able to remember such a craft.

My in-laws live on a farm and are farmers.  There is no red-walled barn with silo in the country, I think.  This is a minor complaint because I do think Lego's target audiences are North America and Europe.  Besides, my son made a good elevator, having ridden in one about once or more a day all his life, while his American cousin has probably been in fewer than a hundred.

A more common complaint is the small number of parts.  There is wonderful variety in the blocks but unless you want to go very minimalist and  abstract, you will probably not complete your structure in the intended color.  I am willing to import parts from other Lego sets - notably the older, only-squares-and-rectangles sets, but I worry about migration of the the game's parts away.

We had fun, we didn't keep score and we built some things together and some simultaneously. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

TWIC 5 (more meat, slightly fewer links)

At Linkedin, Rita King discusses the legacy of Hedy Lamarr, the most beautiful woman of her time, and also a remarkable inventor.  King lists five things Lamarr can teach us about innovation.  I like them all but feel I shouldn't copy the lot.  Here are the first two:
1) Take risks. Hedy fled her country and husband in 1937. “It was his game to keep me prisoner,” she said, "It had been my game to escape. He lost.” On the trip to the United States she landed a Hollywood contract. She also gave herself a new name, Lamarr, after the sea, La Mar.
2) Collaborate. Five years after her film debut, at a dinner party in Hollywood, she met an avant-garde composer and shared her idea to protect US radio-guided torpedoes from enemy interference. She left her number in red lipstick on his windshield so the discussion could continue. The pair patented the invention and presented it to the United States Government for a “Secret Communications System” to help defeat Hitler. 
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I have just finished Ted Kerasote's Merle's Door.  In addition to being one of the best 'life of my pet dog' stories I have ever read (and it really is, and much more), the reader gets a few peeks at Kerasote's writing process.  At the start of the book, he lives in a cottage and has an office in a trailer several hundred meters away.  He 'goes to work' every day and puts in solid hours.  Later, after he built his own home, the commute was not so long, but he appears equally dedicated and disciplined.  Indeed, he shows great physical fitness discipline as well.  to compare Kerasote and myself, we both enjoy wilderness activities, but while I enjoy a few hours a day, one or two days a week, he puts in solid outdoor workouts every day.  I like camping in good weather and he likes camping in all weathers.

I dream of being a writer and he does the hard work of actually writing.  I am impressed.
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I have just finished teaching at a two week ESL camp for middle school students.  it was very tiring but also satisfying.  At the camp I met a fellow teacher who also sculpts bronze.

Jason Mehl is an interesting man, even aside from his art.  He is supremely flexible, putting his foot behind his head while standing on the other foot.  I have not seen him practice rock climbing but he sounded sure, competent and competitive when discussing the subject.

I am still quite an outsider in most art forms and this description of his work first left me mystified:
My sculptures describe an oppositional relationship between man and the world as a force that is somewhere between an offensive and defensive action. Space and material are used to show tension and change using the language of erosion, decay,and growth processes.
He later describes what this means in some detail and I somewhat better understood what he was talking about.  As I say, I accept what Mehl wrote here and feel I 'get it' to some extent, but these convoluted phrases seem common in abstract art.  Is there a school that teaches 'artybabble'?  Is it really possible to read the above and understand it immediately?  Is it really possible that abstract sculptors really think these things before going to work?  I am not describing only Mehl, who I consider a friend, but such artists in general.  If it were me, and I had made a flowing sculpture with cool protuberances and varying from matte to gleaming, would I feel compelled to create a such a written description afterwards?
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Master your Domain. Also at Linkedin, is a description of how two masters of their craft work.  The two masters are Comedian Jerry Seinfeld and Sushi chef Jiro Ono.
Hmmm.  Another list of five.  This time of practices shared between the two.  Here are the first two:
1. Never stop practicing (there is no perfect)Jiro has been preparing sushi for over 70 years; Seinfeld has been a stand-up comic for over 35 years. Both are widely considered to be among the best in the world at what they do, and yet listening to them, one comes away with the impression they will never be satisfied. They are constantly practicing, honing their work, and seeking to improve.
As Jiro describes it: "All I want to do is make better sushi. I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I'll continue to climb to reach the top but no one knows where the top is."
Seinfeld explains:
“If I don’t do a set in two weeks, I feel it,” he said. “I read an article a few years ago that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don’t I know how to do this already? The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop.”2. Sweat the detailsThere is no detail too small. Jiro serves sushi differently to left-handed and right-handed patrons, and once required an apprentice to make egg sushi 200 times before it was deemed acceptable. Seinfeld relentlessly iterates how to word a punchline. As the profile on Seinfeld describes it:
"Seinfeld will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so. “It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai,” he says. “I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.”In this regard, their approaches are highly reminiscent of Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive at Apple, where obsessing over the smallest detail is not just part of their design ethos, it's core to the company's DNA.

Here is my problem with the latter Seinfeld example.  First off, I loved the sitcom, I bought one of his books and when I see an article about him, I typically read it.  I am by no means a hater.

However, while the following sounds admirable in theory, ""Seinfeld will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so.", in practice, it means he repeats he repeats what sounds like old material a lot.

Quoting Patrick Graham's review of Seinlanguage:
After watching the show and listening to his standup act, reading SeinLanguage was a bit redundant. The reader will not find very much new material in this book. Most of the jokes come from his standup act, which inspired scenarios in the TV show.
The jokes are funny and I always laugh, but I picked up this book hoping for an insight into Jerry Seinfeld's life. All I found was a series of jokes about different topics, most of which I had already heard.

Perhaps the jokes were incrementally better, and played better with new audiences, but I suspect he didn't have many new audiences after Seinfeld took off.
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I note a theme through two of my three subjects today.  Mehl, Jiro and Seinfeld are working for approval among the cognoscenti, not the neophytes of their art-form.  I did not discuss Jiro's art previously, so let me take a minute here as an overall example.  Having lived in Korea for more than a decade, I know a little of eating sushi and sashimi.  I have also watched my more experienced father-in-law eat fresh water sashimi with pleasure.  For me, even after several meals a year, what I most note is the soy and wasabi dip.  The fish flesh remains a blank canvas to me.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

TWIC 4 -ken robinson, sci-am research and more

More than a week has passed since my last post, but this is pretty good discipline for me.  I'm teaching at a ball-busting ESL camp now and haven't even had time to open a book not related to work.

Ken Robinson is on video for NPR talking about the need for creativity education and said, "When you speak to business leaders, they say they want people who are creative, who think differently, who can work in teams..."  You know I'm sympathetic but I'm also less than persuaded by his claim.  It might seem odd for a creativity advocate like myself to offer an argument against his recommendation, but I feel it needs to be examined.

I'm most interested in the "they say they want". For teachers, the creative types are uniformly described as troublemakers. "While the teachers said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they actually didn't."   Creative people also tend to ignore social conventions and are somewhat more prone to cheating.

I'm not saying Sir Robinson is wrong, but perhaps that business leaders are saying what people want them to say.  Well, it is what I want them to say, too.
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Part of being creative is actually producing novel work.  Part of producing is the discipline needed to self-motivate.
It being the beginning of the new year, remember not to tell people about your resolutions.  Also own your resolutions. If you do talk about your plans, say, "I don't.." rather than "I can't...".
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Want to write a popular science book?  Sci Am can help you there, too.
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Want to think like Sherlock Holmes?  Yep, Sci Am again.
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This slideshow covers some familiar ground, but also extends beyond to new ideas.
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Not really related, but I applied for a Social Media Manager position recently so this article on how teens use social media caught my attention. Via Marginal Revolution.