Crabbing

You won’t believe it. Grey hair, my age, I started taking flying lessons recently. Do you know what my flying instructor told me? If you are starting here, and you wish to get here, say east… and you have a crosswind, you will drift… So you have to do what we pilots call crabbing… You have to head for north of this airfield, and you have to fly that way… If you are heading here above this airfield, then you will actually land [on the airfield]… This holds also for man, I would say. If we take man as he really is, we make him worse, but if we overestimate him… we promote him to what he really can be. So we have to be idealists because then we wind up as the true realists.

A recent email conversation with Tom reminded me of this fantastic clip from a lecture Viktor Frankl gave in Toronto.

In defense of descriptivism

There are all kinds of pedants around with more time to read and imitate Lynne Truss and John Humphrys than to write poems, love-letters, novels and stories it seems. They whip out their Sharpies and take away and add apostrophes from public signs, shake their heads at prepositions which end sentences and mutter at split infinitives and misspellings, but… [d]o they ever yoke impossible words together for the sound-sex of it? Do they use language to seduce, charm, excite, please, affirm and tickle those they talk to? Do they? I doubt it. They’re too farting busy sneering at a greengrocer’s less than perfect use of the apostrophe.

A couple of years ago, Stephen Fry put together a glorious defense of descriptivism (audio). More recently, Matt Rogers rendered it as kinetic typography. The results are inspiring.

(via Laughing Squid)

Related posts

The glittering world of the salons

Oftentimes, the thing that turns a hunch into a real breakthrough is another hunch that’s lurking in somebody else’s mind. And you have to figure out a way to create systems that allow those hunches to come together and turn into something bigger than the sum of their parts. That’s why, for instance, the coffee houses of the Age of Enlightenment and the Parisian salons of Modernism were such engines of creativity: because the created a space where ideas could mingle, swap and create new forms.

Steven Johnson discusses where good ideas come from. I was struck by the notion that in order for ideas to come to fruition, they need to encounter other half-formed ideas. He mentions the coffee houses and salon of the past, but it occurred to me that we have much the same thing today. Every week in London, there’s are a seemingly endless stream of meetups and events. In my case, the ones I attend regularly are London IA, UX Bookclub London, UK UPA events, London Web Standards (which I’ve also helped organize), and London Web, amongst others. Not to mention the many conferences and unconferences that take place over the course of the year.

Most of these feature somebody speaking about a topic of interest, which is a great way to learn about something new. But Steven Johnson’s talk has made me realize what I really get out of these events: they allow me to talk people who are interested in the same things as I am. These are the people that help me clarify my ideas, and in some cases, help me make them happen.

Cruel anchors

What I’m most interested in is the invisible space between a text and its accompanying image. And how the image is transformed by the text and the text by the image. So at best, the image is meant to float away into abstraction and multiple truths and fantasy. And then the text functions as this cruel anchor that nails it to the ground.

Taryn Simon photographs secret sites, and here talks about the relationship between her photographs and the texts that accompany them.

I’ve always been fascinated and often angered by interpretive labels in art museums. They have the strange power to utterly change my understanding of a work of art. Before I read the label, I’ve started telling myself a story of why the work was created and what it means. Often, that story is at odds with what is on the label. As a result, the story quickly recedes into the distance and is completely forgotten. In most cases, I prefer my story to the “reality” represented by the label.

Maybe I should start writing my own labels. Maybe we all should.

Passion in context

Is this a model of creation? If we make music—primarily the form, at least—to fit these contexts; and if we make art to fit gallery walls; and if we make software to fit existing operating systems: is that how it works? Yeah. I think it’s evolutionary; it’s adaptive. But the pleasure and the passion and the joy is still there.

This is a reverse view of things from the traditional Romantic view. The Romantic view is that first comes the passion, and then they outpouring of emotion, and then somehow it gets shaped into something. And I’m saying well, the passion is still there, but the vessel that it’s going to be injected into and poured into: that is instinctively and intuitively created first. We already know where that passion is going.

When David Byrne started performing music from his CBGB days in Carnegie Hall and Disney Hall, he realized that it didn’t sound as good in these grander venues. He began wondering about how venues shape the music that is performed in them. This utterly fascinating talk on how architecture helped music evolve was the result.

Regaining a kind of paradise

Chimamanda Adichie has given what has to be one of my favorite TED talks of all time. In The Danger of a Single Story she discusses the problem with listening to just one story to the exclusion of all others.

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story…

The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar…

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity…

When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.

Those are the highlights of the talk, the phrases that struck me as I was listening to it. You’ll want to hear the whole thing, though, for the stories she weaves through the entire talk.

Best thing since bifocals

Josh Silver has created a pair of eye glasses that allow you to change the prescription by adjusting the amount of liquid in the lenses. He recently demonstrated his invention at TEDGlobal in Oxford.

This is a brilliant invention and makes it possible to provide glasses for millions people who don’t have access to an optometrist.

(via TreeHugger)