Monthly Archives: February 2013

A secret door

hidden door video stillSomeone has hidden an exterior door beneath the siding on their house. A water spigot serves as a door handle, and a keypad lock is hidden behind a panel. (See short video below.)

I don’t know what the point of this is, but isn’t it cool?

I’ve long been fascinated with hidden doors. There’s just something about them. Something archetypal. Continue reading

Mark Twain: Is Knowledge the Enemy of Beauty?

407px-Mark_Twain_ILife on the Mississippi is one of my favorite Mark Twain books. It’s a hodgepodge of history, tall tales, humor, autobiography (with some “stretchers,” I’m sure), and keen observations of human nature. Some of the best chapters are the ones about learning how to pilot a steamboat.

Riverboat piloting required a strong memory. A pilot had to memorize every detail of more than a thousand miles of river—every bend, shoal, and sunken wreck, towns, crossings, water depths—and all of it both ways, upstream and down, by day and night, and at all seasons and stages of the river. A good pilot knew exactly what his boat could do and what it couldn’t, and he knew how to read the water’s surface in a way that would baffle a landsman.

Several of the best (and funniest) of the book’s chapters are the ones in which Twain writes of his struggles to master this knowledge. But finally he did master it, and his vivid and poignant description of the result has stuck with me for many years. Here are the closing paragraphs of Chapter 9. Rather than being dated, if anything they’ve gained relevance in our world of ever-expanding knowledge: Continue reading

Rilla Alexander: Without the doing, the dreaming is useless

A page from the book Her Idea by Rilla (from the author's website)

Sozi scoops up some of her ideas; a page from the book Her Idea by Rilla (from the author’s website). Rilla Alexander reads from this strangely beautiful and highly original book during part of the video below.

At first you’re excited about your new idea, but the more you work on it, the more inadequate your talent seems. Then the idea itself begins to seem weak. You have other ideas and now they seem better than your formerly new idea. You become discouraged. Progress slows, then stops.

If this has happened to you, watch this seventeen-minute talk by designer and illustrator Rilla Alexander, given at last year’s 99U Conference. Alexander is an Australian-born, Berlin-based designer and illustrator, and author of the children’s book Her Idea.

[Update, Oct. 21, 2013. I’m no longer able to embed the video, but you can still watch it here.]

Alexander is a wonderfully imaginative person and an effective speaker. The almost childlike simplicity of this presentation (illustrated with her own work) doesn’t make her ideas any less helpful to any creative person. Here’s just a few of her points that stuck with me: Continue reading

Temporary mountains

A big part of both creativity and curiosity is the act of looking at familiar things in new ways. Consider time, for instance. Or better yet, a pile of snow.

Where I live, five hundred miles east of the Rockies, one can be forgiven for seeing mountains where there are none. Right now there’s one beside my driveway. It warmed up today and the pile is only about two feet high now, a shadow of its former glory. This tiny mountain has been here all winter. It shrinks as it melts a little, then grows whenever I scoop fresh snow onto it.

Mount Massive in the Sawatch Range of Colorado, via Wikimedia Commons. I wrote this little essay a few years ago, during a snowier winter than the one we're having this year in the central US, and I neglected to take a comparative photo of Mt. Not-So-Massive beside my driveway. Use your imagination.

Mount Massive in the Sawatch Range of Colorado, via Wikimedia Commons. I wrote this little essay a few years ago, during a snowier winter than the one the central US is having this year, and I neglected to take a comparative photo of Mt. Not-So-Massive beside my driveway. Use your imagination.

It’s when the snow grows old and weathered that it most resembles a genuine mountain. The Rockies aren’t going to melt into a puddle under a warm sun, but the forces that sculpt mountains are in some ways similar to those that sculpt snow banks. The pull of gravity and the slow trickle of water give the snowbank something of a mountain’s familiar but ever-unique shape.

What is different is the timeline. Continue reading

Animated textflow: experiencing old poems in a new way

A good poem is highly compressed in its language. You can’t skim through it and hope to get anything out of it. It’s the antithesis of most online reading, which provides more content, more links, more options… and less likelihood that you’ll read one thing slowly and thoughtfully. has a large collection of animated textflow poems, classic poems that are “animated” in the sense that the text appears a few words at a time, so that one line of the poem is broken into a stanza of just a word or two per line, and which fades away when complete. Continue reading

Optimism is a self-amplifying feedback loop

Filmmaker and futurist Jason Silva talks about the self-reinforcing power of optimism in this three-minute video. The first time I watched it I felt it was a bit over-the-top because of Silva’s enthusiastic, almost manic presentation.

OK, I still think Silva is over-the-top, especially after watching a few more of his videos. But if you need what he calls “shots of philosophical espresso” or a dose of techno-optimism (and who doesn’t now and then?), he’s your guy.

And I think he makes a valid point here. He begins by talking about feedback loops and “…the extraordinary power we have to sculpt and mold our lives.” Continue reading

The quiet brilliance of Oscar-nominated “Adam and Dog”

Minkyu Lee is a twenty-seven-year-old animator whose debut film, Adam and Dog, has received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film. Born in Korea and now living in Los Angeles, Lee worked for Disney and now teaches at CalArts. He spent two years and $25,000 of his own money making this delightful fifteen-minute film about a dog who befriends a man in the mythic past. [UPDATE: The complete film, which Lee posted on YouTube for a limited time, is no longer there, and I’ve replaced it with a one-minute trailer. The complete film is now available from iTunes.]

The first thing you notice about the film is how gorgeous it is. Lee says he found inspiration in the landscape paintings of Eyvind Earle. “There is… something about his paintings that have such a powerful sense of nostalgia,” Lee told Asia Pacific Arts. “Even though I’ve never been to those places, somehow it feels like a dream I once saw from the distant past.” Continue reading