From the category archives:


George Carlin, remembering his early career:

“I was doing superficial comedy entertaining people who didn’t really
care: Businessmen, people in nightclubs, conservative people. And I
had been doing that for the better part of 10 years when it finally
dawned on me that I was in the wrong place doing the wrong things for
the wrong people…”


From the Imagine That! blog at Psychology Today:

“Neophyte means beginner. Neophyte is the opposite of expert. The serial neophyte is one who relishes the prospect of feeling a kid again, embracing the uncertainty of ignorance and discovering new things constantly. The serial neophyte, first cousin to the polymath, purposefully moves from one discipline and one venture to another, transferring thinking skills and problem-solving strategies as he or she goes.”


Ken Robinson, in his TED Talk Do schools kill creativity?:

“I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we’ve strip-mined the earth, for a particular commodity, and for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we are educating our children.”

via Zoë Westhof


Stephen Fry writes to his sixteen-year-old self:

So my message from the future is twofold. Fear not, young Stephen, your life will unfold in richer, more accepted and happier ways than you ever dared hope. But be wary, for the most basic tenets of rationalism, openness and freedom that nourish you now and seem so unassailable are about to be harried and besieged by malevolent, mad and medieval minds.


The “former mayor of NY” character, in Shortbus:

“New Yorkers are permeable…therefore, we’re sane.  Consequently, we’re the target of the impermeable — and the insane.”


A great reminder hidden in Maureen Dowd’s cranky interview with Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams:

ME: Do you ever think “I don’t care that my friend is having a hamburger?”

BIZ: If I said I was eating a hamburger, Evan would be surprised because I’m a vegan.

Something that seems mundane out of context, i.e. “I am eating a hamburger” gains significance and meaning through pre-existing social context, i.e. “I’m a vegan.”


“We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself. The journey for each of us begins here. [He points to his head.] We’re going to explore the cosmos in a ship of the imagination…”

I’ve been watching episodes of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos: A Personal Journey”, now available on Hulu:

The next time you hear someone claim that humanists and freethinkers don’t believe in anything, point them to Cosmos — a rationalists’ Credo, a celebration of human curiousity and invention, and an inspiring summary of what Sagan called “the searching of 40,000 generations of our ancestors.”


From a Paris Review interview with Kay Ryan:

Did you always believe in your work, even at an early stage?

Especially at an early stage. I just didn’t know how badly I was doing. That was a blessing. I don’t know how I would have survived if I hadn’t thought that everybody was stupid not to think that it was as good as I thought it was. Still I had to defend it, because there is nothing legitimate about being a beginning writer. I had to treat it with respect and learn my craft.


From a story on NPR about measuring the structural integrity and speed of the brain’s white matter:

Haier says the good news is that we’re not necessarily stuck with the brain, or the brain speed, we inherit. He says thinking is like running or weightlifting. It helps to have certain genes. But anyone can get stronger or faster by working out.

The brain is like a muscle, Haier says: “The more you work it the more efficient it gets.”

So people who practice the violin, or do math problems, or learn a foreign language are constantly strengthening certain pathways in their brains.

And Thompson notes that our brains, unlike our bodies, peak relatively late in life.

“The wires between the brain cells, the connections, are the things that you can modify throughout life,” he says. “They change and they improve through your 40s and 50s and 60s.”


I have some quibbles with some of his conclusions, but there are a few points worth culling from Merlin Mann’s speech at MacWorld this past January:

  • “Creativity is a way of seeing the world, it is a way of behaving, it is a way of understanding how things that may seem unrelated could actually be related.”
  • “When you become a professional creative person, having ideas is the least of your problems.”
  • “Ideas are cheap, making them into something awesome is super-hard.”
  • “Even if it’s just something you do as an avocation — for fun — it’s a job. It’s work.”
  • “There’s stuff you want to do that you may not even realize you want to do.”

His general themes — that creative endeavours require work, sacrifice and blocks of uninterrupted time, and that there may be archetypal patterns to making ideas into something we can share and interact with — are spot on.

There’s also a video on YouTube but it’s 27 minutes, with technical difficulties and a fair bit of wandering jocularity, which is why I’m presenting a condensed version here.


From The Poet’s Trade by Amy Lowell:

“No one expects a man to make a chair without first learning how, but there is a popular impression that the poet is born, not made, and that his verses burst from his overflowing heart of themselves. As a matter of fact, the poet must learn his trade in the same manner, and with the same painstaking care, as the cabinet-maker. His heart may overflow with high thoughts and sparkling fancies, but if he cannot convey them to his reader by means of written word he has no claim to be considered a poet. A workman may be pardoned, therefore, for spending a few moments to explain and describe the technique of his trade. A work of beauty which cannot stand an intimate examination is a poor and jerry-built thing.”

And that’s less than half of it. Read the rest…


Some gleanings from cre8camp Portland last Saturday, which is described as:

…an unconference for creative industries professionals. It is an ad-hoc gathering for participants to learn, network and share in an open environment with discussions, demos and interaction all led by the attendees.

Note: Sorry, I didn’t catch everyone’s name, so where I haven’t given credit to a specific person, I’ll give joint credit to the people on this list.


The final grid! On your mark, get set...

The Final Grid (photo by @stevek on Flickr)

  • In the vote to determine the day’s schedule, I was amused that the “Productivity” session received zero votes. Are we just all GTD’d out?

Oregon Creative Industries

Marketing and Self-Promotion

  • Market to behaviors, not demographic slices.
  • Check out the social media, but don’t stay at the big sites like Facebook.  Follow through to where the real communities are having conversations.
  • The importance of self-awareness: Have a complete and well-formed sense of your own identity before presenting it to the world, where it will be diluted by perception, context, etc.

Getting Unstuck

  • Make a piece of art, and give it away.
  • Bram Pitoyo: Break the work down into categories and properties, e.g. light or dark. Focus on overlooked facets.
  • Ask people to describe a sample or a prototype, which will highlight the specific attributes that they like or don’t like.
  • The first round of edits and drafts is not a time to be thinking of words like “failure” — that’s too early.

Emerging Trends

  • The idea of transmedia storytelling: How can new devices and media give us the ability to pick up the narrative on one device where we left it on the last one? For example, the Kindle knows the last page you read on your iPhone. Can this reduce the overhead of managing all these different gadgets and systems and channels in a significant way?
  • John Hartman: All online social activity tends to lead back to face to face meetings.
  • Whether it’s a website or Twitter, there are many ways to use each tool. When proposing communication projects, present examples not just in the same subject area, but also in the style that fits the situation.
  • Unanswered question: Should devices sense and behave differently based upon the physical and social context? At what point does that become social engineering? And if overdone, does it preclude interesting accidental “misuses” of new gadgets?
  • Social media as an opportunity to “reify the corporate entity”: what is the role of personality in the social media presence of large organizations? (sisoma deserves an award for the most casual and unpretentious use of reify I’ve heard in a long time.)
  • supnah, on the question of converting the unconverted or leaving them be, referred us to his post Why You Should Tweet, A Conversation I’m Sick Of.
  • Want to know if anyone is clicking-through the shortened links you post to Twitter and elsewhere? Snurl, hootsuite and were suggested.

Finally, thanks to Steve, John, Bram and all the sponsors for bringing everyone together.

As in life, I’m sure I missed more than I heard.  You can read more here:

A Pair of Post-Event Thoughts


I got a little grumbly in the “Emerging Trends” session about the dark side of electronic medical records. Anyone who has completed a patient information form for the xth time knows how silly our system is, and the statistics show the astonishing share of healthcare spending that we waste on paperwork and bureaucracy.

On further reflection, the root of my concern is that using technology and better information management to make a dysfunctional system more ‘efficient’ won’t make it more effective. When the boat is already leaking and listing and not able to properly accommodate all its passengers, the answer is not “all ahead, full.”

As Larry Lessig discovered in his attempts to make IP law reflect the realities of the 21st century, it is difficult if not impossible for a broken policy-making apparatus to make good decisions. Of course, we did just have an election, Lessig is trying to change congress, Tim O’Reilly just announced the gov2.0 summit, and there are lots of other smart people like PDF and MAPLight working on it, too.


As part of the Getting Unstuck discussion, Chad Mortensen suggested that when you hit a wall, come up with other ways of looking at the wall, or go around it.

Thinking on this later, it reminded me of that old Schoenberg/Cage story: Arnold Schoenberg told John Cage he was terrible at harmony, and if he continued in music, we would constantly come up against that wall. Cage replied that he would dedicate the rest of his life towards banging his head against it.

That sense of persistence and determination reminds me of yet another John Cage story, which I’ll paraphrase as briefly as I can: Cage was playing a recording of Buddhist chant to a group of students, who found it boring. And he said: “If it’s boring after two minutes, listen to it for four. After four, listen to it for eight…”  After a few more iterations, he said: “And suddenly, you will find that what you thought was boring had been beautiful all along.”

In other words, keeping banging your head against the wall until it is beautiful. (Figuratively speaking!)

Hmm, new project idea: A John Cage story for every occasion…

Watch out “Chicken Soup for the _____’s Soul” people!

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From an article by W.A. Pannapacker, who suggests that procrastination is preferable to “productive mediocrity”:

“But Leonardo rarely completed any of the great projects that he sketched in his notebooks. His groundbreaking research in human anatomy resulted in no publications — at least not in his lifetime. Not only did Leonardo fail to realize his potential as an engineer and a scientist, but he also spent his career hounded by creditors to whom he owed paintings and sculptures for which he had accepted payment but — for some reason — could not deliver, even when his deadline was extended by years. His surviving paintings amount to no more than 20, and five or six, including the “Mona Lisa,” were still in his possession when he died. Apparently, he was still tinkering with them.”


Gem Tactics

February 24, 2009

in Learning,Poetry,Process

Emily Dickinson:


We play at Paste –
Till qualified, for Pearl –
Then, drop the Paste –
And deem ourself a fool –

The Shapes — though — were similar –
And our new Hands
Learned Gem-Tactics –
Practicing Sands