Monthly Archives: June 2013

Curious cows, horses, and dogs

I think the dog in the video knew what she was doing. After the black cow becomes startled, Lucy lies down and the cows (or steers more likely; can’t tell from the video) relax and come closer. Our boxer, Basie, used to do the same thing with small dogs who were afraid of her. But in the photo below, she stood quietly to sniff noses with the horses, who weren’t a bit afraid but eager to make her acquaintance.

dog and horses

Basie meets new friends, October 2002.

When good work goes bad

Ira Glass, above, offers encouragement to frustrated creators; poet John Neihardt, quoted below, offers a different perspective (also encouraging, I think).

Glass (of NPR’s This American Life) explains that when you’re a beginner (such as a writer, artist, or any sort of creator), your taste is better than your skill. So you get frustrated because you can tell that your work isn’t very good. A lot of people quit at this point.

But there’s a positive side to recognizing that your work is bad, Glass says. It means you have good taste, and right now your “killer taste” exceeds your present skill, but it’s pointing in the right direction. The only solution is to produce a lot of work and keep getting better.

I think there’s a little more to it than that, in that doing work improves your taste. The poet John Neihardt (best remembered for his collaboration with Lakota holy man Black Elk in Black Elk Speaks) wrote about this in his 1972 memoir, All is but a Beginning. He describes the thrill of writing his first poem as a young boy: Continue reading

Curious people question authority

Does curiosity have political consequences? (Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a partisan rant.) To put it another way, what happens when curiosity becomes what we might call ‘skilled curiosity’ — meaning, the tendency to ask questions such as “Why is that?” and “How do you know?” plus the knowledge of how to gather information, test hypotheses, weigh evidence, and detect BS. Here’s a concise explanation: Continue reading

Math geek as artist: Robert Lang’s origami

Robert Lang at work on an American flag. Via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a fascinating little video, plus some additional thoughts about art, science, and creativity below. This is so much more than folding little paper cranes. Robert Lang talks about the intersection of art and mathematics, and shows how “problems that you solve for aesthetic value only, turn out to have an application in the real world.” Not to mention some mind-blowing designs.

Lang’s eighteen-minute TED talk is fast paced, lively, and funny. Here are some highlights: Continue reading

On Middle Creek, moving slow

Middle Creek photo

Middle Creek, above Pawnee Lake, Nebraska, June 1, 2013.

Reach ahead gently with the paddle and draw it back slowly, a good long stroke, and you’ll keep the kayak moving with very little noise. Just a steady dip, dip, dip of the paddle blades, and the boat itself glides silently across the still water. Continue reading

An artist’s “new forms of life”

I’m attracted to Theo Jansen’s work not only because of how cool it is (you must watch the video to appreciate it; still photos won’t do it), but also because of what you might call the naive hubris of such a project. Jansen, a Dutch artist, builds complex mechanisms out of PVC that move on their own and which blur the line between art and engineering. He’s gotten a lot of attention in recent years, but like so many things I’m just now hearing about him; if that’s also true for you, read on.

Continue reading

That loafer, Thoreau, on walking in the woods and finding gold

“If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862

One of the things I love about Thoreau is the way he made a righteous cause of what his contemporaries regarded as idleness. After finding the above quote on The W Perspective, I looked up the full essay, which Thoreau delivered as a lecture in 1854 and edited for publication before he died. It was published as “Life without Principle” in the Atlantic Monthly in 1863. An annotated version is here. Like so much of what Thoreau wrote, the essay is pithy, quietly passionate, a bit self-righteous, and well worth reading. A biographer described it as “in a few pages the very essence of Thoreau’s philosophy.” Here are some highlights: Continue reading