Archive for the 'Cool Stuff' category

 | October 5, 2011 5:05 pm

There is something wonderful about paper. It provides a way to capture and transmit thought, preserve knowledge, beautify a space, or entertain. But that’s not all, paper can also be used as a medium to create spectacular pieces of art and sculpture.

A couple of months ago, while attending a conference in San Francisco, I stumbled on the Paper Tree, an origami shop in Japan Town. Though I didn’t really intend to, I stayed for nearly an hour. I was inspired.

Though I don’t aspire to be an origami artist, it is hard not to appreciate the craft and care it requires. An origami master is simultaneously balances aesthetics, planning, and architecture.

But origami isn’t the only type of paper art. There are other techniques — paper case, papier-mache, paper collage, and cutting — which are beautiful in their own ways. In the months since visiting paper-tree, I’ve enjoyed looking at many examples of paper art and thought I might post a small gallery here.

Allen and Patty Eckman - Bear
Allen and Patty Eckman - Bison
Allen and Patty Eckman - Boar
Allen and Patty Eckman - Dancer
Allen and Patty Eckman - Plains Dancer
Allen and Patty Eckman - Life on the Prarie
Helen Musselwhite - Gypsy caravan
Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Rabbit
Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Wood
Helen Musselwhite - Daphne in the forest
Helen Musselwhite - The Green Wood
Helen Musselwhite - White Poppies
Helen Musselwhite - Wild Garden
Helen Musselwhite - Woodcutters Cottage
Jen Stark - Pixelated
Origami Artist Galen - Bison
Origami Artist Galen - Dragon
Origami Artist Galen - Samuraii Beatle
People Too - Computer Users
People Too - Cut Paper Art
People Too - Photo  Shoot
Peter Callesen - Hummingbird
Peter Callesen - Pagoda
Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Hedgerow
Junior Jacquet - At Ready
Junior Jacquet - Contemplative
Junior Jacquet - Masks
Junior Jacquet - Partners
Junior Jacquet - Starting Gate
Junior Jacquet - Thoughtful

Allen and Patty Eckman - Bear

Allen and Patty Eckman - Bison

Allen and Patty Eckman - Boar

Allen and Patty Eckman - Dancer

Allen and Patty Eckman - Plains Dancer

Allen and Patty Eckman - Life on the Prarie

Helen Musselwhite - Gypsy caravan

Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Rabbit

Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Wood

Helen Musselwhite - Daphne in the forest

Helen Musselwhite - The Green Wood

Helen Musselwhite - White Poppies

Helen Musselwhite - Wild Garden

Helen Musselwhite - Woodcutters Cottage

Jen Stark - Pixelated

Origami Artist Galen - Bison

Origami Artist Galen - Dragon

Origami Artist Galen - Samuraii Beatle

People Too - Computer Users

People Too - Cut Paper Art

People Too - Photo Shoot

Peter Callesen - Hummingbird

Peter Callesen - Pagoda

Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Hedgerow

Junior Jacquet - At Ready

Junior Jacquet - Contemplative

Junior Jacquet - Masks

Junior Jacquet - Partners

Junior Jacquet - Starting Gate

Junior Jacquet - Thoughtful

The artists on display are:

 | September 28, 2011 4:28 pm

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you probably know that I have a slight interest in typography. I’m fascinated by the aesthetic quality of letter-forms, the psychological effect they can have on those who are reading them, and the ways that they are created.

In this TEDx talk from UCLA, graphic designer Andrew Byrom touches on all of those, and more. He speaks to the heart of a common artistic challenge: how to reveal the form within.

 | June 9, 2011 5:51 pm

At the moment, I’m entranced with eBooks. There are many reasons for this (and I’m preparing a rather long blog post which explores them), but one rises above all the others: electronic books offer an author the best way to tell complex stories.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at this video from TED, which demonstrates a “next generation electronic book” called Our Choice, by Al Gore. (The video is only four minutes long and well worth your time.)

Though I may be succumbing to hyperbole, I really think that we are seeing the future of non-fiction. We live in a tremendously complex world and those of us who in the business of shaping and communicating ideas — scientists, engineers, idealists, philosophers, teachers, and so forth– face an enormous challenge: how do we take that complexity and make it understandable to others?

For centuries, books have done an excellent job of combining two types of media: text/narrative and images. But while you can communicate many ideas with text and images, there is still a limit. For example, who really thinks that math and certain scientific disciplines are best learned by reading a book? Even an excellent mathematical textbook is only an adequate tool, hardly an exceptional one. It simply leaves out too much of the logic necessary to understand how certain relationships are derived. In such cases, one of the best ways to understand those relationships is to watch them be derived in front of you. When done well, think Richard Feynman, it’s much more instructive than a text narrative could hope to be.

This is where electronic books might take up the slack. In addition to text and images, it’s possible to add video and even interactive elements. There are certain principles that are best explained by a narrative and video clip. There are other concepts where an interactive examples best illustrate an idea. And there are still others where trial, error, and feedback are the best way to teach the concept. With an electronic book, you can include all three. Indeed, just about anything you can do on the web is possible, which is really exciting!

For the electronic version of the Open Source Writing book, I’ve been experimenting with video. (Both ipad and the Nook Color provide rudimentary support for the HTML5 <video> tag.) In the process, I’ve learned an important point: motion and voice make it really easy to show certain points. For example, if talking about how to accomplish a certain task with a computer program, there is nothing more effective than showing how it is done. The rest of the text becomes supporting documentation.

And I think that’s cool because it expands the types of stories I can tell (and isn’t that generally the point of new technology). Cool tech without soul is just flash in the pan.

Which leads to the next important question: how do you create these amazing pieces of electronic art without breaking your wallet or mortgaging your soul? Turns out, the answer isn’t nearly so complex as you might think.

 | June 8, 2011 8:47 pm

In November of last year, I helped KDE e.V. (the foundation that represents the KDE desktop project in legal and financial matters) redesign their quarterly newsletter. At the time, I thought that it was going to be a one-off project. There was to be an aesthetic facelift, after which I was to return to work on other things. That’s not how it’s worked out, though. Instead of  a one-time favor, the newsletter has become an ongoing commitment.

What is funny is that I wouldn’t have it any other way. The newsletter has allowed me to meet some wonderfully interesting people, such as Eugene Trounev (a graphic designer and illustrator) and Claudia Rauch (who handles the business side of things KDE), in addition to scoring me a free trip to San Francisco. But as wonderful as all that’s been, continuing involvement has allowed me to watch the design of the newsletter evolve.

Today, we just finished the third edition since the redesign … and … I’m really happy with the direction that it’s moving. The illustration, photography, and layout has gotten stronger with every issue and people seem to appreciate the work that’s gone into it. (It’s always nice to be appreciated and I had a squee [1] moment when Nuno Pinheiro, one of the fantastically talented artists behind the Oxygen project, actually said we were doing “really good work.”)

But don’t take my word for it (or Nuno’s), below are some of the layouts from the second and third editions of the newsletter. The second edition adopted “more than the sum of it’s parts” as a visual theme. The theme of the third edition is “India.”

 | April 11, 2011 6:55 pm

Note: Still working desperately hard to finish the book. It is nearly done, mostly just tying up loose ends (like getting permission to use all of the pretty pictures). With that said, I’m not going to taunt anyone (especially me) with dates or tentative delivery schedules. It will be done when it’s done. The only thing I’m going to say on the timing is that it will be soon.

I had the strangest experience the other day, and for that reason, I’ve decided to write a strange essay. Here’s what happened.

I was talking with a friend (let’s call him Sam) about recent trends in technology. In the course of the conversation, we found ourselves discussing the finer points of American history. (It then devolved into the anthropology of mushrooms, but, the train of logic made perfect sense at the time. Really.)

Most of the conversation was wonderful. We cracked jokes, exchanged similar views, and generally agreed about everything. I did my usual Steve Jobs shtick, talked up open technologies, and generally babbled about my favorite things. It was a highly enjoyable exchange. Well … right up till we started talking about history, that is. That was when the strangeness happened. As soon as I said, “history,” we found ourselves in disagreement.

Not hostile disagreement or murder your neighbor contention. But it was definitely uncomfortable, and we found ourselves indisputably at odds. No one had said anything of consequence, yet, we were both prepared for a fight over a topic as mundane as “history.” In fact, now that I think on it, the whole thing was really quite distressing.

Not just a little distressing, but the crawl “under your skin and keep you up late at night” type of distressing. And all of this from a single, slightly belligerent comment (made by Sam, of course):

I hate history. Why should I care about things that happened thousands of years ago? I’m too busy trying to live in the present.

At first glance, this might seem a strange thing to get bothered about. After all, what Sam thinks about history has no effect on my life or how I live. It doesn’t impact the type of people I choose as friends or the activities I pursue in my spare time. For that matter, it’s powerless to effect the way I see or interact with the world.

On another level, though, it’s deeply irksome. This is because history is awesome, of course. But it’s also more than that. History isn’t just awesome, it’s also central to nearly everything we do. The way you understand the stories of the past influence how you interpret the future, your politics, and even how you name your children.1

This is why I had such a reaction to Sam’s comment. It denotes a willingness to disengage from the past in favor of a present without context. It also puts you at odds with reality, all 13.7 billion years of it.

image

That’s really dangerous. It leaves you adrift in a complex and stormy world without the benefit of maps, charts, or even horizon to guide you. When history is left behind, it means that you leave everything behind: science, mathematics, literature, anthropology, psychology, medicine … the whole lot. A willful ignorance of the past is also an ignorance of its many gifts. I can’t imagine hating history, it would be like hating … everything.

After I explained this idea, Sam seemed to get it. (At least he said he did. That might have just been to get me to shut up, though.) But Sam couldn’t quite let it be, he had to explain the rationale behind his comment. This is what he said:

When I said I hate history, I wasn’t referring about the sum of human experience. Rather, I was talking about the very narrow way that history is presented in schools. I hate history as a table of dates, irrelevant names, and uninteresting successions of kings.

At which point, I said, “Oh. Yeah, I hate that too.”

Which raises an important point. Why is that we teach something so vitally important to our children in such a bland form? It’s not how history is studied by the “professionals” nor is it representative of how most think about reality. Yet, it’s what we force feed our children.

Neither one of us could come up with a good answer to that question.

Luckily, it seems like the status quo might be set to change. Over the weekend, I came across the following video by David Christian (and the related project of the same name). From the video and available course materials, it looks like they aim to do something audacious: place the subject of “history” within its proper context, as the story of universal existence.

As far as I’m concerned, that is a good thing. Perhaps it might even result in a little less hate for history.

1 As a case of how history can impact child names, consider the case of Chastity. (A story which I heard over the weekend.) She was given the name by her parents, after a great aunt, in the hopes that it would inspire her to a life of service and devotion. There was even some talk of Chastity taking religious vows. None of that happened, of course, because Chastity ran away with an older man to have a family.

 | March 31, 2011 3:44 pm
 | March 28, 2011 10:06 pm

You know that obsession I’ve got with awesome stuff and the compulsion to share it? Well, it seems to have taken hold this morning.

There are two things in the RSS feed today that simply must be shared. For these, everything – looming deadlines, familial responsibilities, and miscellaneous addictions – can wait.

The first item is a link to LibreGraphics magazine. The second is a call for proposals from a conference of the same name.

LibreGraphics Magazine

First, the magazine:

LibreGraphics magazine is designed to serve as a catalyst for discussion; to build a home for the users of Libre Graphics software, standards, and methods. As users of these tools, we know that our work, when executed well, is indistinguishable from work produced by more traditional means. Thus, here we will unite all our previously disparate successes. We will elevate the discourse around Libre Graphics as a professionally viable option, raise awareness, and show that it is the vision of the artist (not the cost of the tool) that is important.

LibreGraphics Magazine - Issue 1.1LibreGraphics Magazine - Issue 1.2

There are two issues currently available. Both are great examples of what a LibreGraphics and open design magazine should be. They provide tutorials, opinion, perspective, and healthy doses of ideology. (Not too different from the publications written for open source code jockeys, actually.)

You can download both issues from the project’s website, or from one of the handy mirrors.

LibreGraphics Conference

Like LibreGraphics Magazine, the LIbreGraphics Meeting exists to “unite and accelerate the efforts behind Free, Libre, and Open Source creative software It’s the premiere conference for developers, users, and supporters of porjects such as GIMP, Inkscape, Blender, Krita, Scribus, Hugin, the Open Clipart Library, and the Open Font Library to gather and work.” In short, a meeting of magic and liquid awesomeness.LGM

The conference organizers are currently looking for help on two fronts:

  1. They need money. Since there are many open source developers and volunteers who would dearly love to attend and might not be able to afford the travel costs, they are trying to raise money for travel grants. They estimate that they need about $12,000. Please donate.
  2. They are also in need of presenters. If you are doing amazingly creative things with open source, consider submitting a proposal. The submission deadline is April 20th.
 | March 24, 2011 9:36 pm

For my first entry in the “Lifehacks” series, I thought that it would be nice to tackle a very common problem. Namely;

What is the best way to synchronize a photo library between two computers?

Show me more… »

 | March 17, 2011 9:01 pm

Note: I have a tentative release date for the book in electronic format, March 31. The print volume will follow shortly. At this point, I am mostly removing things, in the words of Nancy Duarte, “murdering my darlings.” Below, you will find one essay that has been scrapped. It talks about the enabling power of technology, within the context of the Egyptian reovlution of January 25.

On the 11th of February, 2011, a miracle happened. After eighteen days of protest, Hosni Mubarak, the dictator of Egypt for nearly thirty years, resigned as president of his country. But like the despots of earlier times, he did not go willingly.

Starting eighteen days earlier, on January 25th, demonstrators had taken to the streets and public squares of Cairo and Alexandria to demand a voice in their government. They were upset with the pervasive poverty, terrible government corruption, and police brutality which had become its most obvious outward manifestation. They were angry that political dissidents, like Khaled Saeed, could be brutally murdered in the street by members of the security establishment, or, that a Google marketing manager could disappear for asking, “Why?”

Note: Khaled Saeed was a Egyptian programmer who died after being arrested by the Egyptian police in Alexandria on June 6, 2010. Photos of his corpse were spread by Wael Ghonim and others on the Facebok group, “We are all Khaled Said,” inciting outrage over his death. Later, Ghonim himself would disappear for 11 days, abducted by officers of the Egyptian state police. He was later released after significant public outcry, which played an important role in Mubaraks resignation.

But while the story of Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power is similar to that of other dictators, it was also distinct in one important aspect. Since ancient times, successful revolutions have been the products of careful organization. The marches, protests, and civil disobedience of the American and South African Civil Rights movements weren’t spontaneous. They didn’t just happen. They required articulate leaders — Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, respectively — and years of political organization.

What makes the Egyptian revolution of January 25th so remarkable, though, was the apparent lack of formal organization. In contrast to the Civil Rights Movement, the struggle against Apartheid — or older revolutions, such as the American and French revolutions — the Egyptian Revolution seemed to spring out of nothing.

Certainly, there were agitators. Asmaa Mahfouz, a twenty-six year old blogger and activist, was instrumental in cataloging and exposing the abuses of the regime, for example, as were individuals like Khaled Saeed and Wael Ghonim. But for the most part, though, groups traditionally associated with the political opposition — such as the National Progressive Unionist Party (the Tagammu) and the Muslim Brotherhood — explicitly stated that they would not participate in protests and demonstrations.

The hard work of organizing, constructing alliances, and preparing for the protests happened invisibly. Not just underground, but completely out of sight. It made use of Twitter, Facebook, and other new-fangled web technologies. No one group was responsible for it. In many ways, there were no groups responsible, just networked individuals. And in contrast to the revolutionary spokesmen of yore, the administrators of these websites remained largely anonymous. Their great contributions consisted of a virtual forum for messages to spread and like-minded individuals to connect. Of his involvement, Ghonim commented:

[The] revolution is like Wikipedia … Everyone is contributing content, [but] you don’t know the names of the people … Revolution in Egypt was exactly the same. Everyone gave small pieces, bits and pieces. We drew this whole picture of a revolution, and no one is the hero in that picture.

Note: The comments were made during an interview on the CBS news show, “60 Minutes” on February 13, 2011. During the interview, Ghonim described the strategies used by the Egyptians as “Revolution 2.0.” News and plans were passed amongst forum members, who were then encouraged to tell friends, acquaintances, and contacts so that “everyone knew.” The mediums — Facebook, Twitter, text-message, and email — were secondary to the strategy: get the message out quickly and organically.

The actual “content” of the revolt — grievances, evidence of corruption, plans, photos, stories of abuse — was very similar to those of the past. In this, Malcolm Gladwell makes an important point:

People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the nineteen-eighties had a phone — and they ended up with hundreds of thousands in central Leipzig and brought down a regime that we all thought would last another hundred years — and in the French Revolution the crowd in the street spoke to one another with that strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the human voice.

Note: See Malcolm Gladwell, “Does Egypt Need Twitter,” The New Yorker, February 2, 2011, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/02/does-egypt-need-twitter.html#ixzz1CqneJJOu.

But the way that the Egyptian protests played out, the speed at which groups rallied together, and how the Egyptian reformers communicated with the international community had a vastly different feel to them. Technology enabled the protesters to formulate and move their ideas to a hugely diverse audience. In essence, it allowed for them to be more effective, and because of that, Mubarak’s government collapsed in days, rather than months or years.

Technology, in all of its forms, has typically had such effects. Spoken language, for example, allowed for stories and wisdom to pass from one generation to the next. Writing then built on the foundation of spoken communication, and allowed for rising generations to “hear” the precise words of those who had come before. Literally, allowing the dead to speak. Gutenberg’s marvelous printing press then made it easier to disseminate those thoughts to an enormous audience.

Each new development — language, writing, printing — made previously difficult tasks more efficient. Language communicates thought, writing preserves it, and printing disseminates it. But in addition to allowing people to do old things in new ways, it also prompted novel innovations, and, its effect in the Egyptian revolution should not be understated.

Technology made it easier for potential revolutionaries to locate one another, share information, coordinate their actions, and execute their plans. It also made it possible for an everyday group of Egyptians, people like Wael Ghonim, to bring down the government of a dictator.

 | February 1, 2011 1:57 am

Venice City Crest - 1895

The other day, while picking through my typography RSS folder, I stumbled across a marvelous link. Originally shared by Johno of “I love typography”, it pointed toward a late 18th century title called “Early Venetian Printing.”

The book is a collection of illustrated pages from 14th and 15th century works printed in Venice. They cover all of the masters in addition to a few individuals I hadn’t ever heard of. It shows examples of their work and discusses  the principles that early typesetters followed. Additionally there are printers’ marks, water-marks, examples of music printing, and alphabets upon alphabets of initials.  It concludes with a section on the art of Venetian binding.

The book is a beautiful volume, and one that I desperately would love to have in my own personal library. Unfortunately, that will never happen. Early Venetian Printing is an extremely rare book that’s been out of print for decades.

Luckily, though, you can download the entire text (with all of the illustrations) from www.archive.org in PDF, EPUB, or Kindle formats. You can also browse the whole text online.

Here are a few of the images, just to whet your appetite. The full text can be found here.

Examples of Venice Book Design, 15th CenturyExamples of Venice Page Design and Illustration

Page Design, Venice 15th CenturyPage Design, Venice 15th Century

Full Page Engraving, 15th Century

Wood Cuts and Page Decorations, Late 15th CenturyPage Design and Initials, Late 15th Century

Venetian Biblical Engravings, Late 15th Century

Venetian Typography, Early 16th Century

The Winds

Interior Engravings and Initials

Title Page Engraving, With Decorative Border

Music Page Engraving from Venetian Hymnal